It’s a classic twist on Romeo and Juliet. Two gangs, Jets and Sharks rival each other for control of their west side New York neighborhood. When Maria, whose brother leads the Sharks, falls in love with Jets leader, Tony, the rivalry heats up to a war. With the innocent belief that their love can bring peace between the gangs, Maria sends Tony to break up a scheduled fight only to make things worse.
First thing first, the dancing is phenomenal. It’s athletic, energetic and fills the film with so much enjoyable movement it could explode. Or dance right off the screen. Some of its rivals are Singin’ in the Rain, My Fair Lady and Swing Time, but the dance numbers here just have so much pop and youthful excitement they leave Gene Kelly behind, trying to catch his breath.
Through all their big talk and acting out, the gang members are just kids. They hang out at the playground, a dance and soda shops, not pubs or clubs. This makes their disputes (and bursts into song) more believable and when they fly off the handle at the drop of a hat, it’s just teenage angst. It’s after the fight that we see just how young these boys are. From big stuff walking like they own the streets, they run and hide, even cry.
Attention to detail is incredible in every shot. The way the boys always group together without blocking one another. The stage has leaped through the entire city and Jets is written in the background of half the sets.
Every scene is expertly choreographed and set details go a long way. In the “Cool” parking garage scene, the low ceiling adds to the pressure the boys are under. It makes them look trapped and is a great effect for when they leap into the air. The famous fire escape scene adds new angles that Romeo and Juliet couldn’t achieve with just a balcony. And in the right light, a simple chain linked fence adds so much texture, barriers and movement to give that pivotal scene more action. With all their dance moves, these boys are on the brink of explosion. They bring so much life into a place where not one plant or animal is present.
Of course, everyone loves the songs. I guarantee Tonight will stay in my head a while longer. They’re classics and resonate to this day. Watch West Side Story when you’re in the mood for a song or want to dance. Best musical I’ve seen so far.
“Tonight, tonight, it all began tonight…”