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Issue 18 January 6, 2022
A Happy New Year to all our readers. In this issue we compare Spielberg’s West Side Story with the 1961 original by taking a look at three songs.

• Chris Evans to play Gene Kelly in a new film. Let’s hope there are some musical numbers. [Coming Soon]

• Are Movie Musicals Dead on the Big Screen? [Coming Soon]

• Netflix and Archie Comics partner for the live-action musical film, The Archies, to be directed by Zoya Akhtar. [Archie Comics]

• BTS Featurette of Cyrano explores how it became a musical. [Playbill]

• First song released from the new season of Fraggle Rock. [AV Club]

Check out these musical movies added to streamers in the last month. 

Yentl (1983) [Tubi]*

Once (2007) [Prime]

Cabaret (1972) [HBOMax]

Chitty Chitty Bang Bang (1968) [Criterion Channel]

Encanto (2021) [Disney+]

Bathtubs Over Broadway (2018) [Netflix]
A hilarious documentary about the world of corporate musicals.

Willy Wonka and the Chocolate Factory (1971) [Netflix]

Hedwig and the Angry Inch (2001) [Revry]*

How to Succeed in Business Without Really Trying (1967) [Prime Video]

The Tune (1992) [Criterion Channel]
Bill Plymptons oddball animated musical fantasia

Scrooge (1970) [Paramout+]

Moulin Rouge (2001) [Paramount+]

*Free with ads

Despite being a box office disappointment, Steven Spielberg’s West Side Story is an absolute triumph of a movie musical. In examining the differences between the 1961 original film and this new iteration, there are a lot of lessons to take away in terms of improving song sequences for the screen—without even changing a single lyric. We’re going to focus on three songs in particular, “America,” “Gee, Officer Krupke,” and “I Feel Pretty,” all of which we feel are vastly improved from their predecessors. 


TAKEAWAY: Use locations that compliment/contrast the lyrics.

In the 1960 film, this song takes place entirely on a rooftop. It’s one of those sets that the moment you see it you know it’s going to be danced on. You see a lot of this in films of the 60s and 70s, a vestige of theatrical staging that movie musicals have fortunately moved away from. It’s one of the more memorable numbers and sets, but it feels trapped on that rooftop. 

Spielberg brings the number out into the streets where the images of Puerto Rican life enrich the lyrics and bring context to them. The words heighten the images and the images heighten the words and it’s hard to believe this song ever took place on a rooftop to begin with. It also gives the audience an opportunity to be exposed to the Puerto Rican community, something woefully absent from the original film. 

Spielberg also changes the dynamic of the song. What is originally a wonderful debate song (and dance off) with each side getting equal weight, the song is played more as a pure celebration of America that keeps getting interrupted by naysayers; which makes it all the more painful when Anita denounces America at the end.

Gee, Officer Krupke

TAKEAWAY: Make sure songs are motivated by story AND motivating story.

Here’s a song that in the original film takes place on the stoop of Doc’s while waiting for Tony to show up. Krupke comes by to tell them to stay out of trouble which leads them to singing a song about him. It’s a pretty straight up comedy song, not really motivating the story forward in any way. 

The location in the new film has moved to the police station holding room, where some of the Jets have been detained in hopes of extracting information about the impending rumble. This location, motivated by story, is far richer with furniture and props that transform throughout the number until the entire room is desecrated.

More importantly it evolves from a mere comedy number to a song where character development happens. It becomes a training song for Baby John, who is scared to get questioned by the police. The older Jets show him how to deal with authority figures. By the end of the song, he's changed and even sings a verse himself. 

FUN FACT: Strangely, this song is the antepenultimate song in the original broadway show, placed between “Somewhere” and “A Boy Like That.”

I Feel Pretty

TAKEAWAY: If a song’s not working, make it a commentary on capitalism change the context.

Two changes in this song are the location, which is moved from the dress shop to a department store, and placement in the film, now happening after the rumble (which is how it was in the original broadway show). 

Curiously, Sondheim always "blushed" at this song, detailed in this fascinating LA Times article, because of the inauthenticity of the lyrics in relation to Maria’s character. By placing it within the confines of a department store, where Maria is working as a custodian, the lyrics feel motivated by the location and the flowery wording of retail marketing. Maria is roleplaying and talking like the rich people talk, which is an utter joy to watch but also a sobering reminder of her status in America and the limited opportunities afforded to her.

The location is also far more cinematic with merchandise displays and mirrors galore, making it one of our favorite sequences in the film. Not to mention you watch it with a knot in your stomach knowing Tony has already killed Bernardo.
While we still have great love and appreciation for the original (and it's crazy transitions), sometimes it takes seeing two versions of something to see how much better something can be. Spielberg and Kusher created a masterpiece that offers plenty of inspiration on how to tell musical stories cinematically. 
Write To Us
We love hearing from our readers. If you’ve got a movie musical YOU love and want to tell us about it, hit reply and let us know why. We’ll start posting them in future issues.

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"Rooster Revue" is edited by Matt Andrews and Jeffrey Simon with contributions from the entire team at The Barn. Read past issues in the archive

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