Movie Review

'West Side Story': Spielberg's 'ultimate sin' dances circles round the original

Director's take on the 'untouchable' musical proves it's possible to revise, revive and rework a classic so that it becomes a classic all over again

12 December 2021 - 00:01

Perhaps no canonical musical holds such a bittersweet place in the hearts of American pop-culture lovers as West Side Story. The musical, first created for the stage in 1957 by composer Leonard Bernstein, choreographer Jerome Robbins, lyricist Stephen Sondheim and writer Arthur Laurents, was envisaged as a modern update of William Shakespeare’s Romeo and Juliet, set against the backdrop of two warring gangs, the Puerto Rican Sharks and the white Jets.

Its 1961 screen adaptation, directed by Robert Wise and Robbins, is widely considered one of the greatest musical adaptations ever put on screen, even though, for decades now, writers and critics of Latinx descent have raised issues with the glaring and uncomfortable portrayal of its Puerto Rican characters by white actors in “brown face”...

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