BY BILLY SUTER
SOME may consider it an outrage, but after years of rumours a new screen version of the Oscar-winning West Side Story is finally on the cards.
Director and producer Steven Spielberg, who gave us such hits as Jaws, ET: The Extraterrestrial and Schindler’s List, reportedly owns the remake rights to West Side Story and has apparently long wanted to reimagine the musical.
The new film, it has been reported, will not play with the original movie’s story, time setting or the magnificent score by Leonard Bernstein, featuring lyrics by musical theatre’s finest, Stephen Sondheim.
The screenplay will be by playwright Tony Kushner, who has worked with Spielberg before. He co-wrote with Eric Roth the screenplay for Spielberg’s 2005 success, Munich, and also wrote the screenplay for Spielberg’s 2012 film, Lincoln.
The 61-year-old Kushner, born in New York, won wide acclaim and a Pulitzer Prize for his 1993 Aids drama, Angels in America, and is now said to be also working on a new stage musical about Donald Trump.
Playbill and The New York Times both report Kushner as stating that the West Side Story remake’s setting and score – which he apparently calls “the greatest score of a musical ever written” – will remain untouched, However, both reports go on to say that the new screenplay is likely to focus more on the emotional relationship between the leads, Tony and Maria.
“I’m interested that we see love at first sight, as opposed to lust at first sight,” Kushner is quoted as saying. “By the time they’re singing Maria and Tonight things are at a much deeper plane than just two horny kids”.
A modern variation of William Shakespeare’s Romeo and Juliet, West Side Story debuted on Broadway in 1957 and the 1961 film adaption, starring Natalie Wood and Richard Beymer as leads Maria and Tony, took the Academy Award for best picture.
The film centres on street gangs The Jets and The Sharks on New York’s Upper West Side, where they constantly battle for control of the turf. Matters become increasingly complicated when a gang member, Tony, falls in love with a rival’s sister, Maria.
The musical features such classic songs as Maria, Tonight, America, Somewhere, Something’s Coming, A Boy Like That, I Feel Pretty and One Hand, One Heart.
It is interesting to note that as wonderful as the original film was, it is not without some goofs… as website Internet Movie Data Base points out.
For instance, it reports, near the end of the film, when Maria yells, “Don’t you touch him!”, two different voices can be heard at the same time in the first half of the phrase. In fact, the site adds, this was singer Marni Nixon overdubbing for Natalie Wood, for whom she also provided her singing voice in the film.
Soprano Nixon, who died of breast cancer in 2016 aged 86, also overdubbed the singing voices for Audrey Hepburn in My Fair Lady and Deborah Kerr in The King and I and An Affair to Remember.
Interestingly, Nixon finally appeared on screen in a musical in The Sound of Music, playing a singing nun with a couple of solo lines in the song, How Do You Solve a Problem Like Maria?. Her last on-screen singing voice was as the grandmother in the 1998 animated feature, Mulan.
Internet Movie Data Base also reports that there are several instances of gang members (most notably The Jets) mouthing the wrong words during songs in West Side Story. The site adds, too, that at the end of the America song, the top of the backdrop can be seen in the upper right corner of the screen.
Also, it is pointed out that at the end of the film, hard-nosed policeman Schrank lets witnesses and perpetrators simply walk away from a murder scene.
The website also reports that in the final scene a male onlooker dressed in blue is on the left near Schrank’s car. In the next wide shot he is standing on the right near the uniformed police car. Note too, says the website, that in the final scene, a body is carried away, but there is no blood on the ground from the gunshot wound.