Movie Nights with the VSO

West Side Story™ Film with Orchestra

When & Where April 22, 2023 at 7pm & April 23, 2023 & 2pm | Orpheum Theatre

Conductor Andrew Crust

Reviewer John Jane

Those of us who have already seen Robert Wise’s 1961 movie West Side Story will have immediately identified it as being based on William Shakespeare’s Romeo and Juliet. In West Side Story Romeo and Juliet are transposed from sixteenth century Italy to become star-crossed lovers Tony and Maria in New York City’s upper west side.

Maestro Andrew Crust leads the Vancouver Symphony Orchestra in a heart-pounding interpretation of Leonard Bernstein’s Stravinsky-inspired score that has long been considered a “popular masterpiece.” The orchestra fittingly begin the concert with Overture, a medley of the soundtrack’s musical highlights: Tonight, Maria, Mambo and The Rumble.

In the dazzling opening scene, we see an extended dance sequence with numerical superiority alternating between rival gangs, the Jets and the Sharks. The six-and-a-minute Prologue played through the entire scene establishes a tough urban atmosphere which prevails throughout the film. Maestro Crust’s orchestrations are (from my memory) more muscular than the film’s original Sid Ramin and Irwin Kostal’s arrangements. The original music from the film's soundtrack is expunged by means of the cue extraction process, so that the audience only hears the live orchestra intergrated with the original on-screen vocals.

The Orchestra certainly soars when it has to with Bernstein's brilliant Jazz and Latin infused “Dance at the Gym” for the dance-off sequence between the Jets and Sharks. The Orchestra’s synchronization between live music and on-screen interchanging vocals in “America” is impeccable.

It’s been pretty well documented that the film studio employed ghost singers. It’s Natalie Wood and Richard Beymer who play Maria and Tony on-screen, but it is soprano Marni Nixon and Jimmy Bryant who provide their singing voices. Very little of the singing in the finished film was contributed by the actors. The exceptions were George Chakiris and to a limited extent - Rita Moreno (who also lent her talent to the 2021 film version).

The orchestra played right through to the film credits. It was close to a full house on Saturday night. Obviously people believe that taking in a concert and a movie together is a great way to spend part of a weekend.

© 2023 John Jane