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West Side Story, a wonderfully famous late-1950’s Broadway stage musical about two warring street gangs on NYC’s West Side, and a love that developed, and then went up in smoke amid the conflict between the Ethnic American Jets and the newly-arrived Puerto Rican Sharks, resulting in the deaths of three people, yet also presents hints of possible intergroup reconciliation, as difficult as it can be, has had a powerful grip on my imagination since the summer before I entered the sixth grade. My initial introduction to this musical was through the musical score to the original Broadway stage production of West Side Story, while attending day camp out west (Tucson, AZ, to be exact.).
One girl in the group I was with, who’d just received a copy of the LP Album of the soundtrack to the original Broadway stage production of West Side Story for her birthday, brought the album in and played it for the rest of the group. My love for the music to WSS and the story behind it took off instantly.
West Side Story-mania was in the air that summer, as kids frequently roamed the halls, snapping their fingers and singing the songs from WSS. It was quite cool. The songs from West Side Story regularly rang through the bus to and from day camp five days a week. (My sister and I were staying at our grandparents’ house that summer, as well.
When I got home from day camp, I’d play my parents’ copy of that same West Side Story soundtrack LP album that they had, on their Hi-Fi whenever I could. I also liked to bang around with some of the prominent songs from West Side Story on the piano, much to my parents’ dismay and chagrin.
Four years after its first rendez-vous on stage, West Side Story came out as a spectacular motion picture, in late October of 1961, winning well-earned ten Academy Awards, including Best Picture, for that year. Due to my relative social isolation from other kids I grew up going to school with, and to the fact that my parents didn’t consider West Side Story a kids’ movie (I was still a pre-teen back in 1961, when this film first came out.), I did not get to see it until seven years after it was first released, at around Christmastime of 1968, as a high school Senior, during a national re-release of the film West Side Story, at a now-defunct cinema north of where my siblings and I grew up. Little did I or any of my family know that this was the start of a love affair with this film that is still going strong today, much to the amusement, resignation and chagrin of my family!
Since I was still a teenager in high school when I saw the film West Side Story for the first time, I identified with the Jets, the Sharks, and their girls, regarding kids being kids and so on, but when I got a little older and began seeing this film in repertory movie theatres in and around Boston, I still appreciated the story behind this classic film, but I also began to appreciate it as the true work of art that it really is.
I graduated from a large suburban public high school roughly 20 miles due northwest of Boston, back in the spring of 1969, before I sort of put West Side Story on the back burner and saw other films that I liked a great deal.
Three years after I graduated from high school, the movie West Side Story came on TV for the first time, in two separate parts. Someone in my evening Jewelry-making class that I was then taking at the Museum of Fine Arts School here in Boston had brought in a small black-and-white TV, and we all gathered around to watch it, enjoying ourselves and having fun.
That summer, when I went on a six-week trip to Europe, someone in the group had brought a cassette tape of the soundtrack to the film version of West Side Story, which was played almost every evening, during free hours. It was then that my love for this classic film was re-awakened. Shortly after arriving home from Europe, I had a short conversation with my dad over dinner about my wish for West Side Story to come back again. Our conversation went something like this:
That fall, two days before Thanksgiving, I got my wish. West Side Story came on TV, so I cut my evening Jewelry-making class to stay home and watch it, on our little black-and-white TV. Need I tell everybody that I”ve been hooked on this classic film since? Now, every time it comes to one of the independent, non-profit repertory movie theatres in my area, or at least within reasonable driving distance of me (I’ve even made special road trips to neighboring states to view screenings of the film West Side Story!), I go.
As a devout fan of this Classic film, I’ve seen the film West Side Story more times than I can count, as well as several very good stage productions of the original Broadway stage production of WSS that I’ve liked a great deal. ( The more up-to-date Broadway stage revival of this musical...hmmmm..not so much!)’
Much to the chagrin, amusement and resignation of my family and friends, I love this film still, and see it every time it comes around, especially to a movie theatre. Imho, regardless of what anybody says or thinks about how wonderful these elaborate home theatre systems may be, absolutely nothing beats seeing the classic film West Side Story on a great big, wide screen, in a real movie theatre, with the lights down low, and sharing the whole experience with a bunch of other people, whether one knows them or not.