West Side Story Movie Remake Hits All the Right Notes
The big drawback was one I expected: Justin Peck is talented but he's not Jerome Robbins, and his choreography for the film is pleasant and looks a lot like Robbins' in places (the snaps are included), but doesn't take over and grab your attention the way Robbins' choreography does. As a result, the big dance sequences don't pop the way the 1961 film does. Robbins' dance sequences are so iconic that the 1961 West Side Story is sometimes more a dance symphony than movie-musical. The same numbers ("Prologue," "Gym," "America") come across as filler with Justin Peck.
The plusses: the cinematography is amazing. Spielberg mixes a very stylized, romanticized aesthetic with gritty realism. The panoramas of 1950s New York with the vintage cars and subways switches to the footage of the upper west side being demolished for Lincoln Center. The gang fights between the Jets and Sharks draw more blood and are more vicious than the 1961 film. The costumes by Paul Tazewell are stunning and probably will win an Academy Award.
Bernstein's score sounds gorgeous -- Gustavo Dudamel conducted the New York Philharmonic and Los Angeles Philharmonic in a very classical, almost operatic style. The lushness of the orchestration stands out. All the actors do their own singing, so there's none of the awkward dubbing that marred the 1961 film.
So not everything works in this West Side Story. But not everything worked in the 1961 film either. What comes across very strongly is the love and care with which Steven Spielberg treats the material. This is such a contrast to the misguided Ivo van Hove revival. This movie remake is squarely for people who adore West Side Story. Go see it if you love the musical.