The 1961 musical classic West Side Story returns to movie theaters this week in Boston and nationwide, for an incredible “one-night-only” performance on Wednesday, November 9th to honor the landmark film’s 50th anniversary.
This phenomenal and timeless film version of the Broadway production ranks #2 on the American Film Institute’s list of Greatest Movie Musicals, surpassed only by 1952’s “Singing In The Rain” in the top position.
West Side Story won 10 Academy Awards including Best Picture in 1961, as well as a Best Supporting Actress Oscar for Rita Moreno as Anita, and a Best Supporting Actor Oscar for George Chakiris as Bernardo. Jerome Robbins and Robert Wise also shared a Best Director Oscar for their collaborative work on this amazing film.
The film, West Side Story, and the original 1957 musical upon which it was based, was groundbreaking in it’s then modern-day, honest and riveting take on an updated Romeo and Juliet theme, with the young Puerto Rican, Maria falling in love with the American former gang leader, Tony… who’s gang, The Jets is now at odds with Maria’s brother’s Puerto Rican gang, The Sharks.
The film focuses on their attempt to find a safe place for themselves where their love can blossom away from the hate, conflict and racism that surrounds their urban world and threatens to keep them apart.
The film starred Natalie Wood as Maria, Richard Beymer as Tony, plus Rita Moreno, George Chakiris and Russ Tamblyn ( father of actress Amber Tamblyn ). When it was first released in 1961, it was roundly applauded by critics and became the second highest grossing film of that year.
The one-time-only showing of the film in many Boston area theaters Wednesday night is sponsored by NCM Fathom and Turner Classic Movies. It comes to theaters to bring it’s fully restored glory to the big screen as part of this 50th anniversary.
For decades, this film has been only enjoyed on small screen TV via cable or DVD; making this opportunity to experience the film in it’s full original spectacle on the silver screen a truly unique and memorable event.
The film, West Side Story is an incredible achievement in musical filmmaking, featuring superb songs and music by Leonard Bernstein and Steven Sondheim; as well as thrilling choreography and dance numbers by original Broadway stage choreographer, Jerome Robbins. The musical numbers in West Side Story feature a dynamic energy and edge that stands up decades later as an incredible achievement.
The “behind the scenes” story behind the film is very interesting with some true surprises. For example, superstar Elvis Presley could have been one of the leads in this now classic film.
Throughout his life, especially in later years, Presley had longed for an opportunity for a serious film role which would contrast with the long line of forgettable musical films he churned out during the 60’s, before regaining stage success in Las Vegas.
Presley was offered the key role of Tony in West Side Story, but he declined the role under the advisement of his controlling manager Colonel Tom Parker. Col. Parker wanted Presley to continue with the slew of then successful, but mind-numbingly banal, musicals that were a huge money maker for the duo. Parker felt West Side Story’s edgy and serious theme; as well as it’s content that included gang warfare and knife crime, wouldn’t gel with Presley’s carefully crafted image.
However, later when the film became a huge hit and won 10 Oscars, Presley reportedly deeply regretted turning down the role for many years to come.
Singer / actor Bobby Darin, famous for the songs, “Mack The Knife” and “Splish Splash” was also in talks for the role; but ultimately, he also declined it due to conflicts with his concert and recording committments.
Producers considered Warren Beatty, Anthony Perkins, Troy Donahue, and even a young Burt Reynolds before finally deciding on the comparitively unknown Richard Beymer for the role of Tony.
The role of Maria atttracted the attention of many of Hollywood’s popular actresses at the time including Jill St. John, Audrey Hepburn, Diane Baker, Elizabeth Ashley, and Suzanne Pleshette. Oddly, no Latina actresses were strongly considered for the lead romantic role of the Puerto Rican, Maria.
The final casting of Maria came as somewhat of an accident while producers were auditioning Warren Beatty for the role of Tony. Actress Natalie Wood was making the film, “Splendor in the Grass” with Beatty at the time and was reportedly romantically involved with the actor off-screen.
When Beatty appeared before producers to screen test for the role of Tony, Wood read Maria’s lines opposite him as a favor during his audition. As it turned out, the producers were not won over by Beatty, but they were thrilled with Wood’s improptu performance and offered her the role of Maria.
Latina icon Rita Moreno was cast as Maria’s sister, Anita. Her performance would later garner Moreno an Oscar for her incredibly fiery portrayal.
Don’t miss this opportunity to see this timeless musical classic in it’s original splendor on the silver screen at your area theater. Among the locations showing the film in the Boston area Wedensday night : The AMC Burlington 10, Burlington, MA, The Regal Fenway 13 Theater in Boston, The Legacy Place Theater in Dedham, MA, and the Revere Showcase Cinema in Revere.
For a complete listing of theaters presenting this one-night only event showcasing this classic film in and around Boston, go to this link : http://tinyurl.com/7j2nbp9
See more of Tim’s articles, film reviews and videos at : www.TimEstiloz.com