I am still humming the gorgeous songs from West Side Story today, as last night I had the privilege of seeing the newly-adapted musical directed by Steven Spielberg at a Dolby Cinema. I haven’t done a Music Break since last August, so I thought today would be the perfect time to highlight the timeless songs in anticipation for the new film’s release on December 10, as well as honoring the late Stephen Sondheim‘s astounding work.
Confession: I actually have not seen the original musical in its entirety, but my late mom had a CD of a bunch of Broadway songs when I was growing up so I’m familiar with most of the music. I’ve seen a bunch of the scenes since then too, so you can say I’m more familiar with the music/songs than the movie.
A few Interesting Trivia about West Side Story and Stephen Sondheim:
- Per EverythingSondheim.org: West Side Story was Stephen Sondheim’s first foray on a Broadway stage in 1957. He was just 27 when it opened. Already eager to start his Broadway career as a composer and a lyricist, he was convinced by his mentor Oscar Hammerstein to debut as the show’s lyricist, the junior member of a team comprised of three well known artists: composer Leonard Bernstein, director and choreographer Jerome Robbins, and playwright Arthur Laurents.
Sondheim (left) with Bernstein – photo courtesy of CulturalAttache.co
- Per Google Arts & Culture:
– Arthur Laurents taught him to write from the playwright’s perspective
– Sondheim had been informally tutored by Oscar Hammerstein II. Hammerstein was one of the foremost lyricists of the first half 20th century, writing the book and lyrics to such classic musicals as Oklahoma, Carousel, and The King and I. Sondheim describes Hammerstein as a “surrogate father” who mentored the young Sondheim in his teenage years.
- Since West Side Story, Sondheim has received eight Tony Awards (the most won by any composer) the American Theatre Wing Award Lifetime Achievement Award, eight Drama Desk Awards, eight Grammy Awards (including one for the West Side Story 2010 revival), a Pulitzer Prize, five Laurence Olivier Awards, The Kennedy Center Honors, and the 2015 Presidential Medal of Freedom.
Ok so here are 5 of my favorite songs featured in the film (in random order, I can’t possibly rank them!):
The lyrics for this one speaks of the immigrant experience, all the struggles and advantages of living in ‘someone else’s land.’ Some of the lyrics really hit home and even decades after the first production was released, the words still resonate and relevant.
Life can be bright in America
If you can fight in America
Life is all right in America
If you’re all white in America
Here you are free and you have pride
Long as you stay on your own side
I just love the spunk of Rita Moreno in this dance sequence!!
This is perhaps the one song I’m most familiar with… it’s such a powerful ballad that I hope one day I get to watch West Side Story on stage to hear this sung LIVE. In the Spielberg’s adaptation, both actors actually sang the songs… and boy, Rachel Zegler has an incredible singing voice that’s perfect for this romantic song. The 20-year-old Colombian-American actor and singer-songwriter beat out over 30,000 applicants for the role and rightly so!
Interesting that another favorite classic musical I love, The Sound of Music, also has a song with ‘Maria’ in it. I quite like this one sung by Richard Beymer who certainly has more charisma than the current actor, Ansel Elgort. Now, I barely pay attention to ‘cancel culture’ that’s running rampant these days, and apparently he’s accused of some sexual impropriety, but my issue is that Ansel is kind of a bland actor, though his singing voice is pretty decent.
In any case, the lyrics are just so romantic and sweet…
Say it loud and there’s music playing,
Say it soft and it’s almost like praying.
I Feel Pretty
There’s something so fun and whimsical about this song! Now, there isn’t a clip from the current film yet, which I really enjoyed and Rachel Zegler‘s voice is so gorgeous! So I’m including this clip instead. Natalie Wood‘s singing voice is dubbed by Marni Nixon in the 1961 version. It’s such a catchy song that I often find myself humming and one tends to twirl when hearing this song, ahah.
It’s another ballad with such a beautiful, evocative lyrics… I think it beautifully captures the star-crossed love story and also the Puerto Ricans trying to fit in America, it’s truly amazing what Sondheim did with the words of a song… and of course Bernstein’s melody is equally breathtaking. In the original, the song was a duet…
There’s a time for us,
Someday there’ll be a time for us:
Time together with time to spare,
Time to learn, time to care.
… but I actually prefer the one sung in the Spielberg version, sung by Rita Moreno as you can hear in the teaser. It packs an emotional wallop!
Hope you enjoy this Music Break. Which song(s) from WEST SIDE STORY is your favorite?