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Monday, March 4, 2024

Review: Bringing back the classics with a modern spin on ‘West Side Story’

A dazzling rendition of everyone’s favorite musical — songs, dance and all 

By SIERRA JIMENEZ — arts@theaggie.org

The Oscar nominee for best motion picture of the year, Steven Spielberg’s 2021 remake of Robert Wise’s 1961 film “Westside Story,” is a must watch for musical lovers. Even if you aren’t a musical fanatic, the film is worth watching — from its vibrant use of color to its beautifully executed take on character roles from a movie that left big shoes to fill. 

With leading roles Tony played by Gold Derby Film Awards nominee Ansel Elgort and Maria played by rising actress Rachel Zegler, this pairing perfectly conveyed the characters’ extreme love for each other challenged by the looming hatred between the Sharks and Jets. 

Anita, played by Academy Award winner for Best Actress in a Supporting Role Ariana DeBose, was the real star of the show. She fully deserved this award with her passionate dancing capabilities combined with her exquisite acting skills. Personally, I felt every emotion from her every move, her every word, her every song as if I knew her personally. 

Choreographed by Justin Peck, this film was a fresh take on the original film’s iconic choreography, with eccentricity radiating from the blend of ballet, jazz and mambo.

Speilberg’s rendition brought a modern spin on the antiquated classic while keeping most of the film the same. The vibrant colors of the costumes and set brought to life this world of darkness. The use of the cool and warm colors in the gym scene visually reflected the clash between the Sharks and the Jets. 

This 2021 version of the classic musical also underscored many social issues that were somewhat glossed over in the original. The racial divide between the Irish and Puerto Ricans has always been the prime theme of the film, but with more open conversations about racism today, this film portrays this divide through a modern lens. 

From interracial relationships to segregation, these social issues continue today. To view these issues in film through song, dance and acting, the viewer has a different perspective of real life matters. 

Another issue that was emphasized in the newer film was the stress on women empowerment and sexuality. The nameless character who tirelessly tries to fit in with the Jets featured in both the original and remake brings to light the matter of gender identity and gender nonconformity. Played by Iris Menas in the 2021 version of the film, they display a rejection of femininity.

At first, the Jets laugh at their identity, but at the end, the Jet boys come to call them “buddy boy,” fully accepting who they are. This is a big step up from the original film, which did depict the gender-noncomforming character, in and of itself is a big deal for the LGBTQIA+ community, but in the remake, the character explicitly shares their gender identity when they say they are not a girl when sitting on the girls bench in jail. 

Additionally, the women empowerment present in this film was quite considerable. Rather than having a male actor playing the role of the drug store owner, Rita Moreno played a brand new character, Valentina, who is based on Doc in the original screening. Being the mother figure of the troubled boys, she provides consolation and hope for a better future. 

This is not the first time we’ve seen Moreno. In fact, she played the original role of Anita in the 1961 film. Her debut in Speilberg’s new release was a fitting nod to the original that brings “West Side Story” full circle. 

This musical is bold, emotional and tackles real issues, but does it in a beautiful masterpiece of song and dance. The original “West Side Story” is an all time classic, and this new rendition only adds to the brilliance. 

 

Written by: Sierra Jimenez — arts@theaggie.org

 

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