One of the most revered musicals in history, based on Shakespeare's best-known work, one of the most famous and successful filmmakers in the world, a $100million (£75m) budget – thank God Steven Spielberg delivers the goods with his film adaptation of West Side Story.
The esteemed director clearly loves a challenge because why else would you seek to go again where the celebrated 1961 film adaptation – with its 10 Oscar wins – went first?
You could argue it's hard to balls up such premier material, what with stirring Leonard Bernstein music and iconic Stephen Sondheim lyrics as its basis. Luckily Spielberg has resisted the temptation that might have befallen less assured directors to get in there and meddle too much, allowing the quality of the material to speak, if not sing, for itself – as it has done since its 1957 Broadway premiere.
However, Spielberg is also not taking chances, bringing on Pulitzer Prize-winning Angels in America writer Tony Kushner to pen this adaptation's screenplay, based on Arthur Laurents' original book.
He is also wise to flesh out the cast with a lot of talented and characterful newcomers, which aids the more authentic vibe of this West Side Story.
The score and songs are not messed with at all, all appearing in their lush orchestral fullness and performed with verve and freshness by the cast – just enough to allow for a little something extra, but not so overpowering as to overshadow the musical numbers. The cast perform the songs extremely well, but the songs remain the stars of the show.
West Side Story is fully propelled by its music, with treat after treat flying right off the screen to bash you in the face with its briliance, from the Jet Song and America (highlights) to Gee, Officer Krupke and, of course, Tonight.
The last third, however, starts to lag without the zest and vibrancy of the music as it focuses more on the action of gang warfare between the rival Jets and Sharks.
You can well understand Kushner and Spielberg looking to add some context and flesh out the characters a bit to make some of their decisions more believable, but the film sort of proves it's not really worth it adding extra scenes and dialogue, although it does do well with its reimagining of Cool, for instance.
Any way you slice it or dice it though, the speed of Tony and Maria's speed romance remains rather absurd – but that's the story (and, y'know, Romeo and Juliet).
It also delves deeper into the racism and race relations between the white Jets and the Puerto Rican Sharks, as is expected by a 21st century audience. This West Side Story is meaner, grittier and more explicit (although the lyrics stay clean with buggin' over f**kin', as per Sondheim's original plans, if you were wondering).
One of the best outcomes of this second film adaptation is the chance to right the wrongs of 1961's less-than-diverse cast. Rather than orange make-up as a hollow gesture towards ethnicity, this film has true Lantinx representation among its Sharks.
It also reimagines the part of Doc to Valentina for 1961 cast member Rita Moreno, who originally won an Oscar for her performance as Anita, and also returns as an executive producer and to break all our hearts with her version of the mournful yet hopeful Somewhere.
Newcomer Rachel Zegler is a star as the innocent Maria, the perfect blend of goodness and wilfulness, with a gorgeously sweet voice. Ansel Elgort does well as her foil as Tony, and is given more of a criminal back story and (semi) road to redemption here.
However, Ariana DeBose totally bosses it as Anita, fiery, loving and stunningly talented – it may remain the best part in the musical, but DeBose is more than worthy of it.
David Alvarez's Bernardo is also impressive, but Mike Faist is perhaps the revelation of the film as Jets leader Riff: he's damaged, vengeful and nasty – but still retains just enough charm and vulnerability to counteract his part as, basically, the antagonist of the film.
A final word on for 1961 fans – Justin Peck is on choreography duties this time, and presents some bold new moves to reflect an earthier and more frantic film, while still retaining more than a nod to Jerome Robbins' compelling work. Those anticipating the trademark 'Y' leg lift, however, will be disappointed.
Rest easy musical fans, Spielberg has done it, and now a whole new audience can revel in the splendour of West Side Story.
West Side Story is in cinemas December 10.
- Can to can’t – The story of Enslaved: Odyssey to the West
- The new Call of Duty may have revived the WW2 shooter... but here's the fascinating story of how Medal of Honor defined it
- Call of Juarez The Cartel devs insists: “The wild west lives on”
- GDC: The Future of Story In Game Design
- The Last Story Review
- If you like American Truck Simulator, you'll also like...
- Persona 5 is the best Japanese RPG in over a decade
- A conversation with a Twine game
- The history of the first person shooter
- Interview – Enslaved’s Tameem Antoniades
- Xbox One backward compatibility: every major game tested
- Road to the IGF: Down to the Wire's
- What's Next? David Cage: 'Indie developers are the future'
- Falcom Interview — Toshihiro Kondo Talks Ys VIII, Western Market, Nintendo Switch and Much More
- OPINION Cheapo 'Paranormal Activity' Horror Flick Gets Crowdsourcing Right
- Exclusive Interview: Priceline.com
- Miles Jacobson on Football Manager's real world influence, huge scouting network and farting players
- Dying Light Side Quests Guide – Challenges Tips for Power, Survivor and Agility XP
- Alien: Isolation could be the Arkham-like rebirth the franchise needs
- ‘Call of Juarez: The Cartel’ Review
Spielberg’s shot is steady with compelling and dynamic West Side Story have 956 words, post on metro.co.uk at December 2, 2021. This is cached page on Europe Breaking News. If you want remove this page, please contact us.