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West Side Story (1961) & West Side Story (2021)
Episode 25730th May 2024 • Verbal Diorama • Verbal Diorama
00:00:00 01:08:11

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West Side Story's origins as a Tony award-winning stage musical based on Romeo and Juliet meant it was ripe for a film adaptation. Stage director and choreographer Jerome Robbins was set to co-direct with Oscar-winning director Robert Wise; it would be written for the screen by Ernest Lehman, retaining the beautiful score, songs and lyrics by Leonard Bernstein and Stephen Sondheim.

Wise would direct the dramatic scenes, and Robbins the musical sequences, in a lavish, expensive adaptation, shot on 70mm film.

Robbins was a notorious perfectionist, often making the dancers vomit due to exhaustion and dehydration, injuries on set were rife, and his repeat takes meant the production ended up almost a month behind schedule. Those weren't the only issues, though; the actors playing Puerto Ricans were forced to wear brownface, and Natalie Wood, who played Maria, despised her co-star Richard Beymer, who played Tony.

Robbins was unceremoniously fired from the production, but his contribution would lead to him receiving a co-director credit, and an Oscar win.

West Side Story would win 10 out of the 11 Oscars it was nominated for, including Best Supporting Actress for Rita Moreno, the first Latina to win an Academy Award.

Moreno would return to West Side Story sixty years later, as an executive producer on Steven Spielberg's new lavish adaptation of the original stage musical, as well as starring in a new role as Valentina. Gone were the brownface and white actors playing Puerto Ricans. A contemporary story from the early 60s about bigotry and xenophobia, patriotism and cultural divides would become a period piece about bigotry and xenophobia, patriotism and cultural divides, and a long-time passion project for Spielberg.

Its release would be postponed by the Covid-19 pandemic, but while it would lead to a box office disappointment, it would also lead to the first Afro-Latina, and first queer woman of colour, to win an Academy Award; for the same role that Rita Moreno played sixty years prior...

I would love to hear your thoughts on West Side Story (1961) & West Side Story (2021) !

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