West-Side Story: an intact story for themes retained but deepened

-When Steven Spielberg discovers the musical West Side Story, he is only eleven years old. But the little boy he still is is captivated by the savage force of his story and the bewildering beauty of his music. When, five years later, the film that Robert Wise made out of it came out, he went to see it dozens of times. Having become a filmmaker, he dreamed for years of making a musical. But he does not find a scenario, until the day when he realizes that in reality, he has one “on hand”! As it is obviously not, for him, to embark on a remake of the legendary film by Robert Wise, he decides to start again from the Broadway musical by re-examining the balance of power between the two rival bands. No question of modernizing them, but of deepening them. For this work, he called on Tony Kushner, Pulitzer Prize winner and author, in particular, of the cult Angels in America. Two years later, the screenplay for his future film was born: the story is intact, the themes (delinquency, immigration, poor neighborhoods, etc.) kept, but everything is deepened and made more complex.

-For the choreographies, the filmmaker will proceed in the same way. As it is unthinkable for him to “sweep” the original ballets of the brilliant Robbins, he asks Justin Peck, 34, artistic advisor of the New York City Ballet to “lift” them to adapt to the new scenario. The latter does a meticulous job. If it creates new numbers and moves others (America, for example,now takes place in the street and no longer on the roof of a building), he never forgets to refer to the “paw” and the spirit of Robbins. The result is sensational.

-Rearranged and re-orchestrated by composer David Newman, Bernstein’s music “sounds” even better. As for the songs, they were reworked by the New York Philharmonic under the direction of Gustavo Dudamel, under the benevolent gaze of their lyricist, the brilliant Stephen Sondheim, still alive at that time.

-To give a maximum of realism to this “dramatic tale” and so that it is more “street than theater”, Spielberg turned it as much as possible to him in natural settings… Directed with 70% in outside, its The film is visually stunning, further magnified by the photo of Janusz Kumiński, the immense cinematographer.

-The casting is obviously up to the ambition of the project. In his concern for realism and authenticity, the filmmaker wanted artists who could dance, play and sing. Conducted across America (South and North), the hearings lasted a year. But the result is there: all the performers burst the screen. Special mention to Rachel Zegler (whose first appearance in the cinema) and to Ansel Elgort (physique of young first, velvet voice, particularly moving game) who, in the respective roles of Maria and Tony, manage to surpass the performances by Nathalie Wood and George Brenner; Hats off to Mike Faist too, who embodies a Riff of extraordinary presence (an Oscar for the supporting role in sight?). And then what a pleasure to find Rita Moreno, already present in the 1961 film in which she played Anita. Spielberg had the idea of ​​giving him a new character, Valentina, who replaces that of Doc, who, in Wise’s film, was the boss of the coffee shop where Tony works.

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West-Side Story: an intact story for themes retained but deepened