Monday, July 30, 2018

Spielberg and WEST SIDE STORY

I have a question about the new Steve Spielberg project.  If you keep up with entertainment news, I'm sure you've heard he plans to remake the movie musical classic, WEST SIDE STORY.  This is one of the most beloved movie musicals that ever came out of Hollywood.  It won the Oscar for Best Picture of 1961.  Rita Moreno won the Oscar for Best Supporting Actress and George Chakiris won for Best Supporting Actor.  The late great Leonard Bernstein composed the music for the Broadway show.  His memorable music adds to the beauty of the film.
You know that the story was a modern-day version of Shakespeare's ROMEO AND JULIET set in New York City.  We see rival teen gangs and racism give the story a jolt.  Watch the movie again.  The Puerto Ricans feel the cuts and jabs of racism. They feel it in housing and employment.  They have to deal with a racist cop.  Tony, who left the gang of white teens, has reformed and now wants a peaceful life.  He falls in love with Puerto Rican Maria and she falls in love with him.  Keep in mind that the movie came out when America's Civil Rights movement was underway.  Black people were demanding racial tolerance and equal rights in the U.S.A.  Interracial marriage was still illegal in several American states when moviegoers were paying to see Tony and Maria as the star-crossed lovers in WEST SIDE STORY.  This movie musical came out at the perfect time.  It had an urgent social relevance coupled with wonderful show tunes and dance numbers.  I love WEST SIDE STORY.  I have a certain reverence for that film.
So why is Steven Spielberg so hot to remake it?  I am a solid Spielberg fan and have been ever since I was a teen and saw his made-for-TV film, DUEL. on ABC in 1971.  But why does he need to remake WEST SIDE STORY?  His desire to have racially correct casting is noble.  The original film star, Natalie Wood who played Maria, was not Latina.  Oscar winner George Chakiris is Greek and he played the leader of the Sharks, the Puerto Rican gang.  As I wrote, Spielberg's intent is noble.  However...let's look at hit Broadway musicals of modern times that made it to the big screen:

EVITA:  1996 starring Madonna
CHICAGO:  2002 Oscar winner for Best Picture and Best Supporting Actress (Catherine Zeta-Jones)
DREAMGIRLS:  2006, Oscar winner for Best Supporting Actress (Jennifer Hudson)
LES MIS√ČRABLES:  2012, Oscar winner for Best Supporting Actress (Anne Hathaway)

Absent is that huge Broadway musical hit that, oddly, never got a screen adaptation.  1991's MISS SAIGON, a musical drama love story set in 1970s Saigon during the Vietnam War.  Based on Puccini's opera, MADAME BUTTERFLY, MISS SAIGON has love, war, racial conflict and lots of special effects.  It's a spectacle.  That's right up Spielberg's alley! In 2017, there was a limited engagement Broadway revival of it.  Here's a taste of the MISS SAIGON stage experience.
Why doesn't Steven Spielberg give us a film adaptation of MISS SAIGON?  It's got starring and supporting roles for Asian-American actors and singers.  Asian-Americans are in major need of representation in Hollywood.  Even in modern times, roles that should have gone to Asian-American actors were "whitewashed" and given to white actors.  Spielberg could score a home run for giving movie-goers some Asian-American acting and musical talent in a big budget Hollywood film version of a play that was an international hit.  But...that's just my opinion.

In late August, we celebrate the centennial of Leonard Bernstein's birth.  I bet we hear more then about the WEST SIDE STORY movie remake plans.  In other movie news, a movie version of Andrew Lloyd Webber's long-running Broadway musical hit, CATS, will hit the big screen.  A film adaptation starts production this coming November.  The cast of CATS onscreen will include Sir Ian McKellen, James Corden, Oscar winner Jennifer Hudson and Taylor Swift.

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