REVIEW: “West Side Story” Film with Live Orchestral Accompaniment @ Tanglewood [Berkshire on Stage]
Review by Jenny Hansell
It was a profoundly intense experience to watch the film West Side Story on a huge screen with the Boston Symphony Orchestra playing the score, last weekend as part of Tanglewood’s Leonard Bernstein Centennial celebration.
I thought I’d seen the movie a million times but as I watched it in Lenox, I realized I wasn’t sure I’d ever seen it beginning to end, and definitely never saw it on a movie theater screen. And while I’ve seen community productions a half-dozen times, usually the pit band is at most eight or ten instruments. This time it was over 100 of the best musicians in the country; along with the bright Technicolor, the larger-than-life performances and the gorgeous songs, among the best ever written for musical theater, combined to create a transporting experience.
It’s a jarring experience, too: the movie was made in 1961 and starred the hugely popular Natalie Wood, a white actress, as Maria, the Puerto Rican Juliet to Richard Beymer’s Romeo, Tony. Wood and almost all the actors playing the Sharks and their girls wear brown makeup and speak in fake Spanish accents; none (with two notable exceptions including the brilliant Rita Moreno) looks the slightest bit Latino. (Reviewers at the time didn’t give it a second thought.)