I attended a performance of West Side Story at the Pantages on Sunday. Thanks to my daughter, we had excellent seats in the mezzanine along the rail.
It is hard to believe that this was the first time I had seen it on stage.
The cinematic version is etched into my mind, so I felt compelled to compare the two.
The sequence of scenes is significantly different between the two versions, and it materially affects the flow of the story.
The stage version almost comes across as two separate plays with too little transition. In the movie, the fatal rumble took place late in the story; the play has it right before the end of act one. Act two opens with “I Feel Pretty.” While the juxtaposition of a light-hearted scene following a grim one could be an effective technique to carry the emotions of the audience on a roller coaster ride, I prefer the movie’s build-up of the upcoming rumble running parallel to the unfolding tragic romantic relationship between Tony and Maria. The confluence of the violence with the high point of the love story near the finale made for a more powerful ending.
The movie’s choreography of “America” was also better. Unlike the play, it involved both the men and women. The male performers complemented their female counterparts. Their participation not only added to the ensemble quality of the dancing, it enhanced the message of the lyrics.
Aside from these observations, the play was still a powerful performance well worth watching.
The vocal talents of the cast were excellent. Of special note, the operatic quality of one of the supporting actresses was superb.
Stage or movie version, I cannot help but recall Norm MacDonald’s classic SNL skit that poked some good-natured fun at the musical.
Still, one of the funniest spoofs was when Madeline Kahn performed “I Feel Pretty” while dressed as the Bride of Frankenstein in an ensemble skit set as a grade B horror film. I cannot find a link, but the early SNL faithful probably all agree it belongs in the show’s top ten skits of all time.