Verbal Diorama - Episode 257 - West Side Story (1961) & West Side Story (2021) - Verbal Diorama

Episode 257

West Side Story (1961) & West Side Story (2021)

Published on: 30th May, 2024

West Side Story's origins as a Tony award-winning stage musical based on Romeo and Juliet meant it was ripe for a film adaptation. Stage director and choreographer Jerome Robbins was set to co-direct with Oscar-winning director Robert Wise; it would be written for the screen by Ernest Lehman, retaining the beautiful score, songs and lyrics by Leonard Bernstein and Stephen Sondheim.

Wise would direct the dramatic scenes, and Robbins the musical sequences, in a lavish, expensive adaptation, shot on 70mm film.

Robbins was a notorious perfectionist, often making the dancers vomit due to exhaustion and dehydration, injuries on set were rife, and his repeat takes meant the production ended up almost a month behind schedule. Those weren't the only issues, though; the actors playing Puerto Ricans were forced to wear brownface, and Natalie Wood, who played Maria, despised her co-star Richard Beymer, who played Tony.

Robbins was unceremoniously fired from the production, but his contribution would lead to him receiving a co-director credit, and an Oscar win.

West Side Story would win 10 out of the 11 Oscars it was nominated for, including Best Supporting Actress for Rita Moreno, the first Latina to win an Academy Award.

Moreno would return to West Side Story sixty years later, as an executive producer on Steven Spielberg's new lavish adaptation of the original stage musical, as well as starring in a new role as Valentina. Gone were the brownface and white actors playing Puerto Ricans. A contemporary story from the early 60s about bigotry and xenophobia, patriotism and cultural divides would become a period piece about bigotry and xenophobia, patriotism and cultural divides, and a long-time passion project for Spielberg.

Its release would be postponed by the Covid-19 pandemic, but while it would lead to a box office disappointment, it would also lead to the first Afro-Latina, and first queer woman of colour, to win an Academy Award; for the same role that Rita Moreno played sixty years prior...

I would love to hear your thoughts on West Side Story (1961) & West Side Story (2021) !

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About the Podcast

Verbal Diorama
The podcast on the history and legacy of movies you know, and movies you don't.
Are you interested in how movies are made? Do you wonder how a film went from conception to completion? If so Verbal Diorama, hosted by Em, is the podcast for you!

Movies are tough to make, and Verbal Diorama is here to celebrate the coming together of teams of extraordinary cast and crew, bringing us movies that inspire us, delight us, make us laugh, make us cry and frighten us. This podcast discovers the stories behind the scenes, and proves how amazing it is that movies actually exist!

Welcome to Verbal Diorama. The podcast all about the history and legacy of movies you know, and movies you don't! Subscribe on your favourite podcast app, and enjoy new episodes every week.
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About your host

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Em .

Hi! I'm Em. I created Verbal Diorama in 2018, and launched the podcast in February 2019 to rapturous applause and acclaim.... from my cat Jess.

The modus operandi of Verbal Diorama is simple: movies are tough to make! The coming together of a team of people from all walks of life to make something to entertain, delight and educate us for 90+ mins is not an easy task, and yet so many succeed at it. That must be something to celebrate.

I'm here to do just that - to celebrate movies. Their history and legacy, and why they remain so special to so many of us.

Episodes are audibly book ended by Jess. She sadly passed away in March 2022, aged almost 18. She featured in many episodes of the podcast, and that's why you can hear her at the end of every episode. The role of official feline producer is now held by the comparatively quieter Evie.

I love podcasts, and listen to many, but never my own.

I unashamedly love The Mummy (1999) and Grease 2. I'm still looking for a cool rider.