The Star’s Stephanie Henriksen says West Side Story is made to see in a theatre. It’s currently playing at the Civic Theatre. Photo: Ramona Rosales/FOX

The Star’s Stephanie Henriksen says West Side Story is made to see in a theatre. It’s currently playing at the Civic Theatre. Photo: Ramona Rosales/FOX

REVIEW: West Side Story worth seeing on the big screen

Stephanie Henriksen reviews the musical’s latest adaptation

by Stephanie Henriksen

My high school self would have swooned over this movie; a musical love story about a Puerto Rican girl Maria (Rachel Zegler) and American boy Tony (Ansel Elgort) set in the early 1960s New York City.

West Side Story, playing now at the Civic Theatre, showcases the world of juvenile delinquents and their ethnic rivalries. The Jets and the Sharks are fighting for street rights of San Juan Hill. When Maria and Tony fall in love, it sparks up yet another reason for them to go to war.

Maria’s protective older brother Bernardo (David Alvarez) leads the Sharks while Tony’s childhood best friend Riff (Mike Faist) runs the Jets. Tony is recently released from prison, hoping for a clean slate, but Riff encourages him to continue to support their rivalry with the Jets. Bernardo is outraged when Tony, a gringo, shows interest in his little sister.

Originally a Broadway production in 1957, West Side Story was adapted into film in 1961. It won 10 Academy Awards including Best Picture. The original starred the late great Natalie Wood as Maria and Rita Moreno as Anita, Bernardo’s spirited lover. In the remake Rita Moreno plays a loving Puerto Rican shop owner and to me she is one of the standout performances.

I also couldn’t take my eyes off Anita (Ariana DeBose) as she danced and commanded the big screen in gorgeous colourful Spanish styles dresses.

I would recommend seeing West Side Story in theatre for the perfectly executed choreography and costumes, hair and makeup, and set design. The ensemble cast is made up of triple threats: dancers, actors, and singers. It’s joyful to watch them move together in unison from salsa and swing numbers to jazzy street dances set throughout locations in New York. Think “Footloose,” and “Dirty Dancing.”

Tony and Maria first meet during a mixer held in a brightly lit gymnasium. Members of the Jets and the Sharks are invited. The host calls it a “social experiment.” The Puerto Rican Sharks and the American Jets are sticking to their own kind. Throughout the film the Jets are often dressed in shades of blue and grey whereas the Sharks wear reds, browns and bright yellow.

Maria is set up with an intelligent Puerto Rican boy, also a member of the Sharks. As soon as she sets her eyes on Tony, however, it is game over. They sneak away behind the bleachers and silently dance and kiss. What ensues is a Romeo and Juliet-type love affair. Tony sneaks onto Maria’s balcony later that night and they make plans to meet the next day.

I won’t spoil the ending for those who plan on watching it. If you enjoy musicals this will be a treat. There is a powerful and obvious message within West Side Story and ultimately, I think that is why director Steven Spielberg decided to take it on. If we focus on our differences and what sets us apart there will be no peace.