Musical Monday: West Side Story

Posted on April 30, 2007

What happens when a bunch of gay men reimagine Romeo and Juliet with skinny ties and outrageous accents? Why, they toss out the iambic pentameter and add in a lot of crotch bulges! Yes, kids, it’s West Side Story! Strap yourselves in!

We’ve got a TON of YouTube clips, so let’s get started with one of the most famous musical openings of all time (with the possible exception of Julie Andrews spinning her ass off on that mountaintop):

And right off the bat, we’re gonna step right in it. As brilliant as Jerome Robbins’ choreography is in this movie, there are times when placing it in a real-world setting illustrates how much of a fantasy it is. We never could fully buy these supposed tough guys doing ballet steps through the real streets of New York. Granted, once you’re able to make that shift, the movie works, but modern audiences have their work cut out for them in the suspension of disbelief area. Having never seen it on the stage, we suspect it works just fine in that setting. Still, it’s fabulous and beautifully establishes the characters, the setting, and the conflict.


Anyway, Officer Krupke and Lt. Schrank show up and give these punks the what-for, breaking up the male-on-male dancing, sending the Sharks on their way and appealing to the Jets to “make nice with the PRs.”


The boys are humiliated and can’t get their erections to go down, so like a good team leader, Riff does some acrobatics for them and sings about cigarettes and dying days to cheer them up.

We never could stand Russ Tamblyn.


Sweaty and awash in testosterone, the boys take to the streets, frightening bystanders by grunting and thrusting their crotches and asses at them.

Did we mention that this was Shakespeare reimagined by a bunch of gay men?


Later, Riff has a tender moment with former Jets leader Tony.


Old feelings bubble to the surface as Riff teases him about going straight and reminds him that he’s a Jet for life. In the afterglow, Tony agrees to go to the dance that night.


Tony’s … special. We’re supposed to buy this melodramatic princess with his huge white teeth and perfect diction as a former gang leader? Easy on the eyes, though.


Later at the neighborhood bridal shop, we meet Maria, who is virginal and rolls all her r’s a little too hard. She is thrilled with the dress Anita made for the dance that night. Anita doesn’t tell her that she just took in an old communion dress that some fat girl never picked up from the shop.

Rita Moreno=FABULOUS.


The kids all decide to take a couple hits of acid before heading out to the party. And speaking of the party…

TO DIE, CHITLINS. Favorite scene in the whole movie. Wouldn’t life be fabulous beyond words if we all agreed to settle conflicts by yelling

“MAMBO!”
“MAMBO!”
“GO!!!”

at each other and then dancing the SHIT outta the room? Only in the fantasy world of musicals, where the black kids at the dance all line up against the wall in their dour clothes while the white kids demonstrate their superior dancing skills and flashy threads.

Tell you what, if we ever did find ourselves in a Mambo-off, we want Rita Moreno on our side.

And Velma (the blonde) is a bitch.


Tony and Maria, surfing on a wave of hormonal bliss that apparently washed away any vestiges of common sense, kiss in the middle of a war zone and unsurprisingly, Bernardo, being her brother and all, has a bit of a problem with that. Maria gets sent home and Riff and Bernardo agree to have a war council later that night.


Meanwhile, skies are pink for Tony. The dials on our gaydar spin wildly whenever he’s onscreen. He’s supposed to be in love with a girl, but spends the whole movie acting like one instead.

While Tony wanders the pink skies of Hell’s Kitchen, the Sharks and their girls have a little discussion about goals and expectations:


LOVE.

Sure, the lyrics are a little racist, but what a spectacular scene. Rita is ON FIRE and George Chakiris just owns the screen. Whenever these two dance, it’s tough to even notice anyone else. One of those scenes that illustrates what musicals do well so perfectly that it’s become iconic; seared into the public’s imagination and memory. Even people who have barely – or never – seen the movie, have seen this scene. Perfection.


Later, Tony catches up with Maria on the fire escape outside her bedroom in order to get a chance to look up her nightgown. Because her invisible parents are sleeping, they decide to sing really loudly at each other instead of just necking. Damn kids and their hormones.


Tony thinks clean thoughts until he’s composed enough to go to the war council in his tight pants. He talks the rival gangs into picking the best fighter from each side to slug it out, then smugly acts like he’s frikkin’ Gandhi or something.

Why do the Jets all dress like real estate agents?

The next day, Maria acts like a jackass.

It’s a cute song, but we hate this scene. Just a little too syrupy sweet.

And speaking of syrupy sweet.

Because neither of them are very bright, Tony comes to the dress shop to see Maria. Anita is not pleased and flashes her fiery Puerto Rican eyes at him. His mayonnaise whiteness is no match.


Anita swirls her skirts and leaves and Tony and Maria act like total dorks instead of feeling each other up.


Then, Jesus blesses them. We hate this scene so much.

Anyway, as soon as they take their imaginary vows, Maria rips off the veil and starts nagging him to break up the rumble that night. He’s all “Sure honey! That’s a GREAT idea!” and we want to shake them both very roughly for several minutes.


That night, the Sharks and the Jets meet on an old abandoned movie set.


Tony shows up all earnest and in love, thinking that’s enough to break things up.


Great idea, jackass.


While Tony’s demonstrating his poor peace-making skills by killing her brother, Maria is off looking virginal, secure that she won’t have to for much longer.


Fresh from the killings, Tony shows up all sweaty and the good sense train keeps right on rolling as Maria sings with him instead of hitting him with a chair.

Meanwhile, the Jets play it cool and a lightbulb goes off over the head of a little boy named Michael Jackson, who would be inspired to grow up, become white, and rip this scene off countless times.



Their little lesbian friend shows up and tells them that Chino is looking for Tony and he’s got a gun. She demonstrates using the secret gang hand signal for “gun.”


Meanwhile, these kids don’t have the good sense God gave them.

Anita shows up and she is PISSED.

But because this is a musical, all Maria has to do is lip synch to Marni Nixon and Anita is convinced that sleeping with the guy who killed her brother is such a good idea that she’s gonna help her out by heading down to see the Jets to give Tony a message. Yeah! That’s a GREAT idea!

What the hell is WRONG with these kids? Where’s Jerry Springer when you need him?


After the inevitable (and disturbing) attempted rape scene, Anita flashes her fiery Puerto Rican eyes once again and tells the Jets that Chino killed Maria. Eat it, bitches.


Tony takes the news surprisingly well. By walking straight into a bullet.


The Jets and the Sharks learn to work together by disposing of the body right under the watchful eyes of the police. Maria takes the gun home and shoots Anita in the face for being such a shitty friend. The End.

Man, that was depressing. Next week, Think Pink!

[Screencaps: tomandlorenzo.com]

    • Linda Merrill

      Loove West Side Story! I played in the pit orchestra for a production once and it was the best music to play. One of my favorite musical numbers of all musicals is the “Tonight” quartet. Just amazing writing. Thanks for your fun take, boys!

    • Bernd

      I still dream of dancing through the streets of NY like that. Watching this for the first time as a little boy on German TV I had a huge crush on Bernardo. Mega hot, incredible dancer and he had my name. I hated the movie after he was killed off. Who cares about this boring lovey-dovey Tony & Maria stuff, when the hottest guy of the movie bites the dust? Major childhood trauma. The second half does not have any good songs or dance-scenes. Snore.

    • Neil

      Oh you catty bitches!
      You just make this little homos heart teem with sheet music, jazz hands and a little glitter.
      I love love LOVE Musical Mondays. It makes the work day glide on by, for about 20 min or so and then I have to find something else to do.
      I believe that you two should write your own bitchy musical. I’d audition :)

    • Anonymous

      Glad you brought up the incredible need to suspend disbelief at the start of the film. On one hand it is a great musical that one can understand why it won the best picture osacr. However even Stephen Sondheim says it’s not somethign that has aged well even on the stage. He commented it was more about breaking new muscial stylistic grounds rather than a believable story.

      He even admits that I Feel Pretty was a bad song to write for Maria. It was inexperience commanding him to show off his word skills.

      And yes Rita Moreno rocks! She owns every scene she is in. What’s funny also in that America number on stage is not nearly as fun since Anita sings opposite another girl and not Bernado and the rest of the Sharks. They re-wrote much of the lyrics for that number for the film

      Frank

    • the mouse

      Ah, my all-time favorite musical, brought to new heights of glory by you two. And I agree the phony wedding scene is just too saccharine for words. The last time I saw it was the sing-along version at the Castro Theater not long ago. Yes THAT Castro in San Francisco. Mightly Wurlitzer organ throbbing before the show, full Cinemascope-size screen. Wretched as the song I Feel Pretty is, the audience owned it.

    • mumblesalot (Laura A)

      “Later, Riff has a tender moment with former Jets leader Tony.”

      That line is still making me hysterical.

      “Why do the Jets all dress like real estate agents?”

      I am laughing too loudly for 11am.
      When I should have been watching “All About Eve” as a girl, I was taking notes about love from this movie. No wonder I had such strange concepts about relationships. All red flags became red roses to me.

    • KingRoper

      Yea! WSS is one of my faves (I know its problems, but I love it anyway). This was the era of lip-synching, and this is full of it. At a few points (Quintet, I Have A Love), Marni Nixon is singing for both Natalie and Rita (who did most of her own vocals) and is dueting with herself!

      The best lines in the film? My fave 2 are:
      Anita (during the quintet):
      “He’ll come home hot and tired – So what?
      No matter if he’s tired – as long as he’s hot!”

      But Yvonne Wilder as Consuelo gets the best line ever…
      “I KNOW YOU DO!!”

    • Anonymous

      Way back when, I must have listened to the movie soundtrack album a zillion times. Just beautiful music. Then I saw the movie (probably in the mid to late 60s)and felt a bit let down. Certain parts just didn’t work.

      I think you guys nailed exactly – with your usual great flair – what didn’t work for me then.

      As a counterpoint to this film, I’d suggest watching the documentary of Leonard Bernstein working on a concert version recording of this work. You get the music sung by opera stars and some insight into the music.

      That said, Rita Moreno and the music are superb. The dancing is certainly athletic. And even with it’s flaws, this is a film that should be seen once. After all, it did win Best Picture and nine other Oscars.

    • Anonymous

      Think Pink? Oh, how I hope that means Grease! I can’t wait to see what you girls do to Travolta!

    • Gorgeous Things

      Love the music, so so on the story. I agree that it hasn’t aged well, but the music? Well, it rocks to this day! I saw the UCLA marching band and the Canadian Brass do a Jets/Sharks riff on “Officer Krupke” that still brings a smile to my face!

    • KingRoper

      One more note: the WSS soundtrack album STILL holds the record for the longest time spent at #1 on Billboard’s chart… 54 weeks!

      Can’t wait for Funny Face!

    • Liz

      I’m torn… is next week Funny Face or Grease 2 (the Pink Lady Pledge)? Because if it’s Grease 2… and you’re going to review the Reproduction song… I may have to call in sick to work.

    • ToddNY

      Love it, Boys! Those guys were hot in their tight pants. It’s still one of my favorite musicals.

    • Kathryn

      LOVE IT! “America” never fails to make me get out of my seat and start dancing. (Then I remember that I’m a white girl with no rhythm and have to sit down in shame, but whatever.) You guys are amazing. PLEASE let “Think PINK!” mean that you’re doing Grease next week!

    • kathryn

      Question, though – why’d you completely skip “Officer Krupke”? Personally, I think it’s one of the funniest songs in the movie, even if it doesn’t have the dancing of “America.”

    • RD

      I was thinking Grease (not its sequel) as well for next week.

      I never had a problem with the opening sequence or “I Feel Pretty,” but, uh, yeah, escaping with your new bride away from the neighborhood you live in is smarter than trying to go to fight and stopping it.

      (And yes, I know West Side Story is based on Romeo and Juliet, but I just agree with the review.) :)

    • Anonymous

      i LOVE this musical! however, the best characters are the supporting characters. george chakris and rita moreno have such amazing chemistry together, that they put maria and tony to shame. i could watch george and rita dance all day.
      marisha

    • thombeau

      It’s all about Rita Moreno! Always was!

      You KNOW I love “Funny Face”. Blue’s taboo, green’s obscene! Keep it up, boys!

    • Muse of Ire

      This movie is #1 on my list of “Movies in which you want to slap both the hero and heroine silly.”

      But you are so right about Rita Moreno. This movie would have been way better if it had been about her and Bernardo, but they could never have made a musical about people who actually have sex.

      Also, I keep wondering where is this fabulous “Somewhere” Tony and Maria are planning to run off to. New Jersey? Poughkeepsie? Iowa? Yeah, cause those places are all MUCH more accepting of interracial romance than NYC!

    • Anna

      Ugh! I hate the “one hand, one heart” scene too!

    • BrianB

      Hell, Alice Cooper did the Tigers and the Jets number and couldn’t screw it up, that’s how good the music is in this movie.

      “The good sense train keeps right on rolling….” That’s hilarious!

      I haven’t seen this since I was a kid and the only parts I could get interested in were the scenes in Anita’s shop. All those fluffy cocktail dresses and she puts Maria in that drab white dress!

      I remember what a sensation this movie was when it came out, seeing the trailers in the theatres. I loved the logo with the red background, it was like nothing I’d ever seen before. Well I was only about 6 years old so I probably never did, but still! My oldest sister was about 14 at the time and went on and on about how tragic Tony and Maria were. Of course, around that time you had teenage death songs like “Tell Laura I Love Her” all the time on the radio, kids ate it up. When I finally saw the movie a few years later I was so disappointed because there was so little glamour!

      “Banish the Beige!” Can’t wait for nest week!

      BrianB

    • Meg

      You’ve got to wonder about how well this musical might have aged if the story had focused more on the story of Anita and Bernando. There’s no denying that the two of them are so very much more interesting than Tony and Maria, a pair of world class saps if ever there were one.
      Also, about the song America I think you need to give it credit for talking about immigration and racism and from the point of view of the non-white immigrants. Hell, how many movies (let alone musicals) of that era allowed ANY non-whites to voice any thoughts about anything? Although that line about “smoke in your pipe and put that in” is very annoyingly racist and a pathetic rhyme to the phrase “isle of Manhatten” to boot.

    • Marius

      Oh, Natalie Wood and Rita Moreno. I just love West Side Story. Great post.

    • Anonymous

      Laughing so loud my head fell onto my office chair’s backrest. Dress like real estate agents! Inspired.

      I have to admit that I vamp the moves to the “When You’re a Jet” dance steps, all leaning forward, fingers snapping and sideways chasses, when I hear the overture to this Bernstein masterpiece.

      I remember with great fondness seeing “West Side Story” at Avery Fisher Hall in New York in August, 1968. Fondness? Heck, it was thrilling.

      Think PINK!! Kay Thompson, Audrey Hepburn, Fred Astaire and “FUNNY FACE!” One of the beauts.

      Thanks, T&L, for making Mondays marvelous and fabulous.

      NDC

    • Niki

      Doctor’s office. Post office. Pay bills. Laundry. Lousy Monday.

      Then, suddenly, I find myself falling in love with La Moreno all over again, while shaking my head mercilessly at most of the rest of the film. We all think it’s terrible, and yet love it.

      You have just made an otherwise lousy Monday feel sparkly. Thanks, sweeties. You know not the good you are doing by making us laugh!

      Can’t wait until next week…

    • macasism

      Best score ever. Best choreography ever. Who cares if the story doesn’t age well? It was 500 years old when they stole it.

      Rita Moreno is a goddess. But why cast someone who can neither sing nor dance in the romantic lead? Natalie Wood is pretty, but that’s about all.

      It better be Funny Face, because if you count Grease as a musical I might have to disown you.

    • TheQuietOne

      Oh, sooooo happy you did this. :) I was in love with this musical as a kid and even now when I see how corny parts of it are, I still love it. And thank you for posting the “America” dance – my very favorite. One thing I always wondered about though – if the guy throws stuff out the window at the Jets after the rumble for talking too loud, why oh why did the tenants of the upstairs apartments never come after the roof dancers??? Can you imagine how that must have sounded? Maybe they all got crushed to death by falling ceiling plaster.

      Excuse me, I must put on my flouncy Rita Moreno dress and go dance now. :)

    • Anonymous

      PRGAYBOYS:
      You guys are so socially conscious & fair. I just love the hell out of you 2. You're not just hilarious (& I do mean HILARIOUS), your intelligence and keen critiques are a wonderful balm against the cruel, unjust bias that permeates media today (and yesterday as evidenced in WSS & Showboat, which you gave the once-and for all-over last week). I work in Television and every day I face the most base, ignorant & bigoted executives who are convinced that their audience is just as base, ignorant & bigoted as they are. Just wanted to say thanks for reinforcing my belief that they're alone.

    • Anonymous

      hooray! gay boys and kay thompson – can’t wait til next monday!!

    • Embeedubya

      West Side Story. Sigh. Two words: George Chakiris. And what have you got against Russ Tamblyn? He did some mighty goofy stuff before and after this, but Riff is … Riff! Come on! Also loved Ice in his big number (the justifiably copied “Cool”). Tony, on the other hand, what a treacle dripper.

    • Anonymous

      Funny Face!
      Audrey! Kay! Fred! Fashion! Beatniks!
      Snooty Frenchmen gettin’ the beat-down!
      Heaven.

    • aimee

      “Old feelings bubble to the surface…”

      HA! Again with the genius screen caps. You boys are just amazing.

      I wanted to be Rita Moreno when I was a child, solely because of this movie. Sadly, I’m way too white and Irish to pull it off, but I tried. Good lord, but I tried.

      Also, I’ll ditto what linda merrill said. I’ve played in a pit orchestra for WSS too, and it was by far my favorite of any of the shows I played for.

    • annabelle

      I’ve seen this musical done twice on stage. Once in a high school production (bad), the other professional (epic!). I highly suggest seeing it on stage. It puts it in a different light. Anita if still fierce, and Maria is better when not being played by Natalie Wood. She’s innocent, but not sugar-sweet.

    • e jerry

      Linda Merrill:

      NUH-UH!

      “Cool” is the bestest! A double fugue is pure genius!

    • Anonymous

      Think Pink?
      It HAS to be Funny Face

    • Anonymous

      btw, where’s bill? i enjoy his insights on musical mondays almost as much as i enjoy the gay boys’ brilliant commentary!
      marisha

    • Suzanne

      “Anita doesn’t tell her that she just took in an old communion dress that some fat girl never picked up from the shop.”

      I can’t take you two today….too much in one sitting….NOW I KNOW WHAT YOU WERE UP TO ALL WEEKEND!! LOL!!

    • Alice

      I LOVE musical mondays! and I LOVE West Side Story! it’s the best musical ever. I feel like it’s aged well, every time I see it I’m just as moved at the end as the first time.

    • Vic

      Well, this USED to be one of my favorite MACHO movies about gangs in the 60′s. But now I’ll never be able to forget this phrase, Meanwhile, skies are pink for Tony. The dials on our gaydar spin wildly whenever he’s onscreen. He’s supposed to be in love with a girl, but spends the whole movie acting like one instead.

      What you gonna reveal next? That Tom Cruise is gay?

    • Linda Merrill

      e jerry said…

      Linda Merrill:

      NUH-UH!

      “Cool” is the bestest! A double fugue is pure genius!

      OK, doubled fugues are cool too. My other all time music number fave is the quartet from Sweeney Todd (also Sondheim) and I’m correcting myself, I meant quintet from WWS.

      Sweeney Todd would be fun for you boys to do. There must be a tape with Angela Landsbury somewhere. Have a little priest!

    • Sunny

      This was awesome!! I love West Side Story. I was the whitest Anita there ever was in my high school production, lol. You forgot one of my favorite numbers, though. Hey, Officer Krupke, Krup You! Hee

    • Anonymous

      Rita = in-fucking-credible.

      -k

    • Anonymous

      Anonymous said…

      btw, where’s bill? i enjoy his insights on musical mondays almost as much as i enjoy the gay boys’ brilliant commentary!
      marisha

      Yeah!
      He contributes awesome trivia, too. I bet he has some fab tidbits on GC, Russ Tamblyn (PS: PRGAYS, what do you have against RT? I worked on TWIN PEAKS and he was an absolute dreamboat!)and the incomparable RITA MORENO. What a GODDESS!

    • valpal

      I think I heard in an interview with Marnie Nixon that Natalie Woods didn’t know that she was going to be dubbed. While Marnie was in the studio dubbing the songs, Natalie was in the studio thinking that her singing was going to be used in the final version. BIG bummer when she finally found out what was up.

      Bill, you must know whether I’ve got this right. I could be thinking of any one of the women that Marnie made into musical stars.

    • Linda Merrill

      valpal – yes, Natalie Wood thought it was only her high notes that would be dubbed. The rest of the cast was aware and had to play along with the ruse so Natalie wouldn’t get upset. Incedentally, what I heard (I think it was an NPR interview with Rita Moreno) there didn’t seem to be very warm feelings between the two leading ladies. Probably lack of respect that the Russian-American non-singer/dancer had the lead playing a Puerto Rican. But, movies are business and Natalie was a big star at time.

      Marnie Nixon is still giving concerts. btw – trivia – she was on screen in The Sound of Music as Sister Sophia, one of the gaggle of nuns who seemed to always be huddled together.

    • Bill

      Sorry to miss Musical Mondays by a day. Ed and I had the grand opening of his new store yesterday (www.thefarmhousestore.com) and it was just a busy, busy day.

      But if I had to miss one, this is it. I am a rabid Sondheim fan, but despite his clever lyrics in the specialty/comedy numbers, I hate this musical. I can sort of stomach it onstage, but in the movies – blech.

      Tony & Maria are goofy and good to the point of seeming a bit mentally challenged.

      But my biggest gripe with the movie is the "replacement" Anita. Chita Rivera from the original Broadway production is the one and only Anita in my book. They took many of the Broadway dancers to play Sharks, Jets & their girls. They should have taken the leads as well. Chita is as fierce today as she was back then.

      Check my blog for the photos of the REAL leading ladies of WSS.

      The dubbing: Jimmy Bryant sang for Richard Beymer (Tony). Neither leading lady could sing their roles completely. Marni Nixon sang for Natalie Wood, but also did some singing for Rita Moreno (Anita-the-lesser). Betty Wand also hit some of Moreno’s notes for her.

      Oh – and Russ Tamblyn’s daughter Amber was the star of the short-lived “Joan of Arcadia” TV series.

    • Anonymous

      Think Pink! and that includes the kitchen sink!

      I cannot wait. I have watched that movie maybe 100 times, no kidding.

      “I wouldn’t be caught dead (in it).”

    • Anonymous

      It should be noted that the two famous opening numbers you mention were directed by the same person – Robert Wise.

    • valpal

      Thanks Linda and Bill, for the input. Poor Marnie had to take a lot of grief over the years for her amazing work.

      Bill: thanks for the connection to the new store. Good Luck, Ed! LOVE the painting of the red barns on home page.

    • Bill

      Marni wrote a book that came out last year. It’s called “I Could Have Sung All Night: My Story”. Click through to Amazon from the ‘Project: Gay’ page (we have to support the blog!) and pick it up. It’s a good read with lots of info on her voice ghosting for Natalie, Deborah Kerr, Audrey Hepburn and others.

      ValPal – thanks for the support.

    • bitchybitchybitchy

      While WSS hasn’t aged that well, I am such a fool for musicals that I still love it-for the dancing alone
      This rhythmically challenged gal has always, always wanted to MAMBO!!! like those incredible dancers….. perhaps in my next life…

    • Beth Rang

      Funny Face???? Yay!!!!

    • rooroob

      No dancing (full multiple chorus lines or First Wives Club trios) in the streets of NY?

      You all don’t hang out much in Tribeca, then?

    • Bill

      PBS in the NY area is running West Side Story this Saturday night (5/5) at 9 PM and again at 12:35 AM on Sunday 5/13.

    • neeley o’hara

      I adore you guys to the point of distraction but must say was disappointed you didn’t comment on the supremely brilliant WSS Quintet/Tonight sequence. This is when we get to see the budding Sondheim genius paired so supremely with Bernstein. I believe this number is American musical theater at it’s very best. I could (and sadly have) watch this number over and over.