A to Z Challenge – Wonderful World of Dance

Day 23

April 27, 2016

The Winsome Letter: W

West Side Story

When I was a young girl, my family had a tradition for birthdays; dinner and a movie – sounds like a date to me. When I was turning thirteen – a real teenager, no longer pre-teen – I wanted to go see a movie called Diamond Head. Movies at that time had an increase from fifty cents, to ninty nine cents. But, hey, their daughter was worth it.

Anyway, it was at the amazing Valencia theater on Jamaica Man Avenue – where, upon the stage, beneath the screen, I’d be walking across to receive my JHS diploma in one year. But that’s not the point. Great theater, great movie. But wait! The lines! They were out the door and around the block! How could that be? On my birthday, I don’t get to see my chosen movie? My heart was breaking. Turning around I look at the RKO theater right across the street where some other movie was playing, and very few people were waiting to get in to see that film. I grudgingly agreed to go see that one instead.

Of course, I couldn’t know, in that moment, that this other movie would change my life – or at least make that coming of age birthday a whole lot better!

The movie begins with an overture, against the backdrop of an abstract painting of the skyline of New York City – my very own home town – in colors, one morphing into another.

 It’s like a little taste treats from most of the great tune in the picture. Leonard Bernstein wrote this wonderful soundtrack’s music, and Stephen Sondheim gave us the words for the different numbers.

The story centers around two rival gangs, The Jets and The Sharks.

Of course, at the core of this are two young lovers – think Romeo and Juliet since this is a contemporary telling of that story – Tony and Maria, who meet at the dance at the gym.

This is an obvious no-no for both sides which leads to all manner of trouble and becomes just another reason for the two gangs to get into a more serious rumble arena.

After the dance and after it is agreed upon to meet for a war council, The Sharks take to the rooftops to burn off their anger with their girlfriends.

Before the meeting at Doc’s Candy Store, we get to see how the Jets use comic relief to cool their heels.

At the war council, the time and place are set and the two representatives are chosen to fight. The night leading up to the rumble gives us glimpses into the moments of everyone involved.

What Bernardo believes is his chance to get back at Tony, turns out very different.

What started out as a fist fight turned into something not at all COOL:

We all know how Romeo and Juliet end up. West Side Story rewrites this:

What we don’t get to see after Maria collapses is that members from both gangs help to carry Tony’s body away. When Juliet lives, it seems, at least for a moment, that both sides begin to learn to put aside grievences in the wake of so much loss. Perhaps the world can learn something from rewriting a classic.

For me, West Side Story was the best movie I’d ever seen. This evidence is in the 40 times I went to see the movie over the years, until I found in Future World, the advent of the VCR would allow one of my dreams – to have a movie theater in my own home – to come to fruition.

West Side Story pushed me to pursue dancing in an effort to follow another dream I had then. I even tried out for the High School of Performing Arts (the venue where “Fame” took place). While I didn’t make the cut, I never stopped dancing, and I continue to hold West Side Story as truly one of my favorite ever movies.