'West Side Story' deserves a long look on golden anniversary
Turner Classics Movies and 20th Century Fox celebrate the 50th anniversary of MGM's "West Side Story" by bringing the acclaimed musical back to the big screen in select theaters for one night on Wednesday.
"West Side Story," which debuted on Broadway in 1957 and was adapted for the screen in 1961, rocked the theatrical world by winning 10 Academy Awards, including Best Picture, and altering the constructs of musical theater forever. For the first time, the art forms were integrated to create a natural flow among dance, music and story.
Agnes DeMille had pioneered the blending of story and dance in "Oklahoma!" in the early 1940s, and Michael Kidd brought his unique naturalistic approach to "Seven Brides for Seven Brothers" in the mid-'50s, but the subject matter was still playful and the setting nostalgic.
In "West Side Story," teen angst and social injustice in the gritty streets of New York found voice in the edgy jazz choreography of Jerome Robbins and the meaningful music and lyrics of Leonard Bernstein and Stephen Sondheim. Robbins' impact was undeniable; he won a special award from the Academy for his contribution. Twenty years later, Michael Jackson would pay homage to Robbins with his video "Beat It" a groundbreaker in itself.
Utah's Emmy Award-winning television and film choreographer Bonnie Story said the first time she saw "West Side Story," it made her want to act as well as dance. "The thing I loved about it, and the thing I've tried to emulate in my work, is that it tells a story. There is a conversation in the choreography."
Robbins' impact was far-reaching. Trained in classical ballet, he joined American Ballet Theater and later became ballet master and choreographer for New York City Ballet. His strong technical background gave his choreography elegance and power, and the dance composition classes he took from Bessie Schonberg taught him to tell a story.
"What makes art and dance interesting is having a dialogue through movement, and Robbins did that brilliantly," Story said.
An example of movement as conversation is the famous rumble scene between the two rival gangs, the Sharks and the Jets. "Even Tony and Maria's duets are conversations each movement is a word, and each phrase is a section of dialogue," Story said. "It would be terrific to see this again on a big screen."
The one-night-only opportunity to see "West Side Story" is presented by Fathom Events, the entertainment division of National CineMedia Inc., the biggest supplier of alternative programming to movie theater chains in the country.
Fathom adapts live shows from Lady Gaga to the Metropolitan Opera for theater viewing. Last year I saw the Broadway show "Memphis" at South Salt Lake's Century 16 and was very impressed with the presentation.
The Sharks and the Jets at 50
Turner Classics Movies and 20th Century Fox celebrate the 50th anniversary of MGM's "West Side Story" by bringing the acclaimed musical back to the big screen for one night only.
When • Wednesday, Nov. 9, at 7 p.m.
Where • Select theaters along the Wasatch Front. Go to fathomevents.com/classics/event/westsidestory and enter your ZIP code to find the theater nearest you.
Tickets • Available online or at the box office.