'West Side': still a great musical

March 15, 1991|By Stephen Hunter | Stephen Hunter,Sun Film Critic

When you're a Jet you're a Jet all the way and that's as true now as it was in 1961 when Robert Wise and Jerome Robbins' brilliant version of the Broadway musical "West Side Story" reached the screen to thunderous acclaim.

Styles in musical theater have changed since then; now the paleo-mythic bombast of slick Brits like Andrew Lloyd Webber, or "Les Miserables" creators Alain Boublil and Claude-Michel Schonberg, seems to rule. That doesn't change the fact that "West Side Story" is a terrific musical, much of it actually shot on the streets where it took place, and it's as wonderful now -- particularly on the big screen of the Senator Theatre in a ravishing 70 millimeter roadshow print, where it will nest for a week -- as it was then.

All right, so Natalie Wood didn't really sing. So Richard Beymer and Russ Tamblyn grew up to become the twin geeks of "Twin Peaks." So George Charkiris evaporated off the skin of the planet. So Leonard Bernstein, who collaborated on the project with Robbins and Stephen Sondheim, had the audacity to croak.

In some ways, the film is more pointed and poignant today than then. Of course, in 1961 (the show opened in the mid-'50s on Broadway) it was generally thought that the problems of the city could be solved; now, 30 years later, the cities are worse off than ever and there may never be a future as bright as the one Tony and Maria dreamed of in "Tonight." In fact, '61 is looking more and more like Camelot.

'West Side Story'

Starring Natalie Wood and Richard Beymer.

Directed by Robert Wise and Jerome Robbins.

Released by Columbia.


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