Aged like fine milk, West Side Story depends solely on the glitz and glamour Robert Wise and Jerome Robbins can offer the streets of Manhattan, New York. They offer little in the directing chair and must rely on actors who can hold a note but crack through this clunky, two-and-a-half-hour musical with little to show for it. A story of unity in the face of segregation, West Side Story has honest intentions but portrays them awfully. Where its sweeping shots of the Big Apple look impressive and make the city seem quite small, the contrast within should be the big hearts that take the place over.
That is something West Side Story cannot offer. Taking the clicking of the fingers and The Jets’ supposed domination over the Puerto Rican groups at all seriously is an uphill struggle when the hairlines are receding into the slicked-back fantasies of the toyboy image of the 1960s. If these are the protagonists, then pray for them. They are jerks through and through. Clearly, they are not up to anything good, though. They storm through a park getting up to no good, primarily stealing a basketball for a brief few seconds and then skipping through the street. They’re not the most exhilarating or interesting of characters. While the choreography may be intense and well-managed, it does not distract from the groups of men who communicate through clicks of the fingers and pirouettes in the streets.
Impressive choreography and well-established direction can only do so much. The acting is poor, the overreliance on the musical side of these moments a let-down and the uncontrollably dull back and forth between the two groups is predictable yet facile. For all the leaps and dance routines are integrated into the action and dynamic chase scenes, they do not stick together as well as they should. The random moments of clicking the fingers down the side alleys have that larger than life meaning to them but offer little in the way of rewarding story tension. It is never truly established what these groups are fighting over, what they will do once they have the upper hand, or why they need to.
The role of segregation or race in America is the crux and easy excuse to make for it, but that does not hold water. Their street fighting ways has an awkward camaraderie that means they’d never rat on one another. That much is demonstrated once the fight is broken up. Their unity is in their disrespect for the law, but that is a young adult perspective, not one of race. There are similarities between The Jets and Puerto Ricans, more than what Wise and Robbins can grasp. They are limited by their musical gusto and desire to design a feature that can offer a few Twin Peaks cast members and little more than that. It is weaker at times, and as impressive as the choreography may be, it does not provide with it any strong performances or interesting dialogue. A dull affair, even with all the glitz and glam bolstering them on.