hmv.com presents… The Best Soundtracks of All Time: West Side Story
With some great in-store offers coming this summer on film soundtracks as part our 'Decades' series, every day we'll be picking the best soundtrack, one for every year, starting with 1950 right through to the present day. Today we're up to 1961 and we're taking a look at a classic musical: West Side Story...
West Side Story, beloved musical starring Natalie Wood and Richard Beymer, with music by Leonard Bernstein.
So what’s the film about?
Loosely based on William Shakespeare’s Romeo & Juliet, West Side Story began as a musical revolving around music and lyrics by Leonard Bernstein and Stephen Sondheim, opening on Broadway in 1957 and running for over 700 nights before touring. Rather than rival families, the story is instead based around two rival gangs from different ethnic and religious backgrounds. For Jerome Robbins and Robert Wise’s 1961 film adaptation, Natalie Wood stars as Maria Nunez, a girl linked to the Puerto Rican gang The Sharks by virtue of being the sister of its leader, Bernado. Rochard Beymer co-stars as Tony, the leader of Caucasian rivals The Jets.
Tony and Maria fall in love, but when the gangs clash in a street fight Bernado kills Tony’s best friend, but Tony takes revenge by murdering Bernado in a fit of rage. Just like Shakespeare’s original story, it’s a tragedy masquerading as a love story.
Is this a score or a soundtrack?
Being based on original songs by Bernstein and Sondheim, we’re very much in score territory.
So what’s it like?
Set on New York’s Upper West Side in the mid 1950s while it was still a working class neighbourhood (before the area was bulldozed to make way for the Lincoln Center), Bernstein’s songs are pitched accordingly and bring a contemporary twist to the story, with a mixture of upbeat crowd pleasers like ‘America’ and swooning love ballads like ‘Maria’. There are also moments of tense drama, particularly during piece ‘The Rumble’ that plays alongside the climactic gang fight scene.
What does it give the film?
Musicals live or die by the strength of their compositions and Bernstein and Sondheim were two men at the top of their game when this film was made. The songs not only help weave the narrative and provide the film’s most memorable moments, they also heighten the drama and emotion throughout, with many of the songs becoming hits in their own right, in some cases several times over.
What’s the best moment?
There are many highlights to the film’s soundtrack but ‘Somewhere’, the duet between Tony and Maria, is a proper show-stopping moment that always brings the house down.
Has it stood the test of time?
West Side Story is still revered as one of the greatest musicals ever made, so the answer has to be an emphatic ‘yes’.