Wednesday, July 12, 2017

I Met a Jet from WEST SIDE STORY

This movie musical, the adaptation of a hit Broadway musical based on Shakespeare's ROMEO AND JULIET, is a cinematic work of art.  That magnificent score, the gorgeous orchestration, the choreography, use of color, the art direction, the editing, the performances, the humanity of the story....it all works.  It all touches my soul.  And it get my fingers to snappin'.  I always wish I was dancing the Mambo with the Sharks, the Latino kids, in the gym.
WEST SIDE STORY aired on TCM recently.  I watched it yet again, fully absorbed and so totally touched that tears did run down my face at the end.  True, a few things about this 1961 Oscar-winning film are dated.  Keep in mind it's based on a 1950s Broadway musical that was revolutionary in its day with street gangs as subjects.  But when I watched it again last night, there was a frankness that felt achingly current and relevant.  Simon Oakland played the openly racist and verbally abusive cop, Lt. Schrank.  He's bigoted towards Puerto Ricans.  It hit me that he was the kind of cop who would've shot an unarmed minority youth to death but would've been found "not guilty" because he claimed that he feared for his life and that's why he shot.  Pair that with the immigration issue sung about in the "America" number.  This was a modern-day reality and frankness movie audiences didn't experience in the Hollywood musicals and of the 1940s and 50s.  It was a reality and frankness that holds up today in the era of "Black Lives Matter" and proposed Trump immigration bans.
Let's bring in the Hollywood "Oscars So White" controversy of the last couple of years.  I thought of that watching the remarkable performance delivered by Rita Moreno.
She sang, she danced, she packed a dramatic punch.  The gifted Puerto Rican star won the Oscar for Best Supporting Actress.  Then, because of Hollywood's racial exclusion and lack of equal opportunities for women of color, she did not get another major movie offer for seven years after she'd won the Oscar.  As my mother would say, "That's just a sin and a shame."

Just like black actresses Cicely Tyson, Diahann Carroll, Angela Bassett, Alfre Woodard and even Viola Davis -- to name a few -- Rita Moreno got an Oscar nomination and then had to turn to television because Hollywood had no quality script offers after she'd made Oscar history.
I worked on an ABC News live magazine show in 2000 called LIFETIME LIVE.  Rita Moreno was an in-studio guest one day.  I was off the day but went to the studio specifically to meet Ms. Moreno and tell her that she's been a role model to me ever since I was in high school.  Backstage, after her interview on the show, I met Rita Moreno.  She was everything I hoped she would be -- and more.  Especially when I told her that I came in on my day off just to meet her.  Rita Moreno treated me better than my agent at that time did...and he was taking 10% of my paychecks.
In WEST SIDE STORY, She played Anita.  Anita is in love with Bernardo, the leader of The Sharks.  In the original Broadway cast, Chita Rivera was Anita.  In the winter of late 2005 or early 2005, a dear friend invited me to see Chita Rivera in her one-woman Broadway show.  He was the musical director for it and he wanted me to meet some friends of his who'd also be in the audience.  One of those friends was one of The Jets in the original Broadway production.  He'd danced in the Broadway cast with Chita and repeated his role of "Mouthpiece" in the film version.  I was thrilled to meet and talk to the lovable Harvey Evans.  Look at this photo from the movie WEST SIDE STORY.  See the trio of Jets at the far right of the picture?  Harvey's the Jet in the middle.
Here's another photo from "Jet Song," the opening number in WEST SIDE STORY.  Harvey is the first Jet you see in the lower right-hand corner.
WEST SIDE STORY won the Oscar for Best Picture of 1961.  Decades later, Harvey Evans danced in another musical.  Another movie musical that also got Oscar nominations.
A few years after we'd met and chatted after seeing Chita Rivera's opening night on Broadway in her one-woman show, I noticed Harvey in a movie I was watching at a critics screening.  I'd be reviewing it on the Whoopi Goldberg national morning radio show.  The Disney movie was Disney's fantasy musical comedy, ENCHANTED.  This 2007 release put Harvey back in New York City near where he'd danced in WEST SIDE STORY.  He was in Central Park, seated next to Amy Adams in the "That's How You Know" number.  Watch for Harvey.  He's the senior gent sitting next to Amy Adams and working on a newspaper crossword puzzle. She'd holding a sketchpad.
It doesn't end there.

ENCHANTED got three Oscar nominations.  "That's How You Know" was a nominee for Best Song.  When the number was performed live on the 2008 Oscars telecast by Kristin Chenoweth, Harvey Evans was in the number live repeating his ENCHANTED movie role.

In my long TV career as an entertainment reporter, I've never been assigned Red Carpet Oscar coverage nor have I been asked to be on a network morning TV news program the morning after to talk about the awards.  If I had been on GOOD MORNING AMERICA the morning after ABC's Oscar telecast, I would have definitely mentioned that Harvey Evans, one of the dancers in WEST SIDE STORY, Oscar winner for Best Picture of 1961, had been onstage the night before dancing to a 2007 movie tune that got an Oscar nomination for Best Song. He'd danced to "That's How You Know" in Disney's ENCHANTED.

I think that's a great story.  I am so lucky to have met Rita Moreno and Harvey Evans of WEST SIDE STORY.



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