Steven Spielberg’s latest triumphant effort is “West Side Story,” the 1961 classic whose story is still as, well, breathtaking as ever.
But unlike the Broadway musical, here the stage adaptation takes on significant changes. Rather than focus on stories of two young women struggling to make it as young men in big-city New York, a gang – we’re talking street gangs, not criminals – dominate the stage and decides that fighting is the better game. The plot may get changed a few times, but the underlying inspiration of love, ultimately triumph, remains.
That has the benefit of refreshing, but the shortcoming of this film adaptation may be that “West Side Story” isn’t so much for kids as for all of us who can’t wait to reach the back of the class, or the realm of fantasy, to breathe in awe, tears and adrenaline. Some will find the change a bit more of a stretch, but this Spielberg movie isn’t a retread.
Onstage, the upheaval and violence are vividly portrayed in soaring duets by Tony and Maria – and their love story remains true to the original – which some may view as a way to make the new “West Side Story” more accessible. But after watching it, it’s clear the songs still establish the passion and context.
This film version has a lot to offer, and it does so pretty well. But it’s sometimes frustrating that Spielberg is clearly proud of the film’s dazzling production value and people are sometimes left wishing he would share some of the spotlight with the dancers or the actors.