Linda Cook review: New ‘West Side Story’ is as timeless as the original

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Some works of art are timeless.

“West Side Story,” with music by Leonard Bernstein and lyrics by Stephen Sondheim, had its beginnings as a Broadway production. The 1961 movie adaptation earned Best Picture, among other Oscars, at the Academy Awards.

Come to think of it, it’s a lot older than the Broadway production, because it’s inspired by William Shakespeare’s “Romeo and Juliet.”

Now here it is, in the hands of a new director – Stephen Spielberg, helming his first musical.

The overall setting is a neighborhood in New York City that is being demolished for the new Lincoln Center for the Performing Arts (ground was broken in 1959.) The Sharks and the Jets, two gangs who live in the area, continue to fight over turf on the Upper West Side of New York City

Tony (Ansel Elgort), who is affiliated with the white Jets, has returned from spending time in jail. He really wants to stay out of trouble, but his friend Riff (a wonderful Mike Faist) wants him to get back into the brawls with the Sharks, who are Puerto Rican.

Bernardo (David Alvarez) is the leader of the Sharks. Maria (Rachel Zegler) is Bernardo’s younger sister. She goes to a dance attended by both Sharks and Jets. Even though she already has a date, she takes one look at Tony and falls for him.

Bernardo warns Tony to stay away from Maria. But later that night, in a “balcony scene,” Tony finds Maria, and sings to her. They make plans to run away together.

There’s no stopping the upcoming rumble. Or the violence. Or the tragedy.

Or the love Tony and Maria feel for each other.

The dance sequences are phenomenal, and the singing is just terrific. This is the kind of show that people who love musicals long for, with iconic numbers such as “Maria” and “I Feel Pretty.”

One welcome addition is Rita Moreno, who was among the stars in the 1961 version, as a storekeeper who tries to run her business in the quasi-war zone the gangs create.

If you’ve never seen the original movie, the stage play, or a production of “Romeo and Juliet,” it won’t matter. You’re bound to enjoy the timeless themes, music and incredible dance numbers.

“West Side Story” is a perfect holiday bauble that will have audiences of all ages singing.

4 stars

Running time: Two hours and 36 minutes.

Rated: PG-13 for foul language, sexual situations and violence.

In theaters.

Watch the trailer here.

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