Not that long ago I read reports that producer/director Steven Spielberg has expressed interest in doing an “updated” remake of West Side Story. Yes, that’s correct—we are talking about remaking one of the most beloved and honored movies of all time. West Side Story received 11 Academy Award nominations and won 10 Oscars, the most of any film before it with the exception of Ben Hur. I have no idea how serious Spielberg is—the reports say merely that he has “expressed interest,” which, considering his Hollywood clout, is enough to make movie studios fall all over themselves trying to accommodate him. In this case, Fox Films, which owns the rights, has already agreed to give permission.
I don’t know if Spielberg would simply produce or would also direct the project, but I have to wonder exactly how (or why) he wants to “update” it. Give the characters cell phones? That would certainly eliminate the missed-message syndrome that ultimately leads to Tony’s death (have you ever stopped to wonder how many plots from books, movies and films of the past would be invalid if the characters had cell phones?). Perhaps Spielberg wants to make the film more attractive to today’s youth by casting Miley Cyrus and Justin Bieber as Maria and Tony. Or would the Sharks and the Jets have a hip-hop dance competition, like in 2004’s You Got Served? Is it conceivable that Spielberg would dare to even consider tampering with the universally acclaimed Bernstein-Sondheim score?
Or maybe Spielberg will do what he did with E.T. the Extra-Terrestrial, and make the film more kid-friendly by changing the gang members’ switchblade knives to walkie-talkies.
Mercifully, the original classic is still available for viewing, with two extraordinary opportunities (July 17 and 18) to see it at Ravinia in all its glory with Leonard Bernstein’s immortal score performed by the incomparable Chicago Symphony Orchestra conducted by David Newman. Juvenile delinquency has never been more gloriously tuneful. If you haven’t seen it before, come and see why so many are aghast at the Spielberg rumors.
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