This afternoon, I watched Joey McKneely's revival of West Side Story, considered to be the best musical of all-time by more than a few renowned critics. Although it has been made into a critically acclaimed film (the movie won 10 Oscars including "Best Picture") and many songs have been ingrained into the public's consciousness even though they may not quite know where the song came from this was my first encounter with the show in any form. How did I feel about it? Well, I came away pretty much despising Maria, the female lead. I know that this is an adaptation of Romeo and Juliet, and I do generally feel for the star-crossed lovers when I watch such shows, but this time, I just cannot believe how unsympathetic they managed to make Maria.
MD explained that she's supposed to be a young, naive teenager, fresh off the boat and crazily in love with Tony, the first real man she has met. To be fair, my understanding of the plot was marred considerably by not having managed to catch the first 15 to 20 minutes of the show as MD was late. This notwithstanding, my general hatred of Maria came from watching her reaction to Chito telling her about the rumble which resulted in her brother's death. Her immediate response, "What about Tony?" I couldn't help it and just said, there and then, "Does she really not give a **** about her brother?"
To people who know me well, I am incredibly protective of my brother. As a result, I tend to react a little more negatively than most when it comes to incidents such as what seemed to have been portrayed in that particular scene in WSS.
To top things off, after they sing Somewhere, a song professing their love and wish that there exists a place for them to live in peace and happiness, Tony and Maria end up sleeping together, which is something I had great difficulty understanding. Yes, you're in love with him, girl, but he killed your brother. You may feel what you have is the real deal, but surely something's amiss?
In fact, I felt so strongly about this that when Maria attempts to fob the detective off by saying she has to go to her brother, I just snorted incredibly loudly. B****. Yeesh.
Anyway, this is not to say that I hated the show. Not at all. There are some incredible moments, such as when the ensemble sings Tonight, which had a certain operatic element to it what with different parts of the cast singing different lyrics which, when heard all together, sounded delightful. America was particularly delightful and I felt the singing and the dancing worked well with the score and just integrated perfectly.
Stephen Sondheim's brilliant wit was showcased in Gee, Officer Krupke! and made me laugh and cheer, although I felt the rearrangement of songs by McKneely meant that the song came at an inappropriate part of the show (at a time when you felt the Jets would be mourning their leader's death, rather than clowning around).
It is nice to see that WSS still seems as refreshing as it did 50 years ago when it was first staged. There are, of course, certain parts which seem a little out-of-date given that we are now living in a world where sex and violence are so in-your-face. That can't be helped. Still, it is a classic, and everyone who loves musicals should catch this one.
As for me, I'll be renting the DVD and watching the film to see how this worked as a movie... and hopefully, the film doesn't have Maria appearing as hateful and immature as this production!