The Closer: Season 3
West Side Story
50th Anniversary Edition
Composed by: The Official Leonard Bernstein Web Site
Lyrics By: Stephen Sondheim
Distributed by: Decca Broadway
Reviewed by Melissa Minners
Of all the musicals Iíve had the pleasure of viewing, only one stands out as the most powerful love story/tragedy ever written: West Side Story. A Romeo and Juliet of more modern times, the tragedy of Tony and Maria was one that touched the hearts of theater and movie goers everywhere. The soundtrack of West Side Story has long been a favorite of mine and so, it was with great pleasure that I received the West Side Story: 50th Anniversary Edition CD for review.
Of course, I suppose I should give some background information for anyone stuck under a rock, unable to have heard anything about West Side Story. The tale surrounds Italian street gang member Tony, who meets and falls in love with a young girl of Hispanic descent named Maria at a school dance. Seeing each other from across the gym, the two fall instantly in love at first sight. Unfortunately, Mariaís brother is the leader of an Hispanic gang known as the Sharks, a rival of the Jets. Tony has to choose between loyalty to his Jets family or the woman he has fallen in love with. Maria is in the same predicament. Like the story of Romeo and Juliet, events unfold that throw the lovers lives in a turmoil that culminates in tragedy.
This version of West Side Story features Italian tenor Vittorio Grigolo as Tony, New Zealand sensation Hayley Westenra as Maria, Will Martin as Riff and Melanie Marshall as Anita. Will Martin is perfect as Riff, the street-toughened leader of the Jets. Melanie Marshall does an admirable job as Anita, a role I havenít seen portrayed better since Rita Moreno performed it in the theatrical movie version of West Side Story. Hayley Westrena is terrific as poor, tormented Maria. Her voice is simply beautiful and a perfect selection for that of the love songs featured throughout the musical such as Tonight and I Feel Pretty. Vittorio Grigolo, however, just doesnít seem right in the part of Tony. His voice is incredibly strong, but seems more suited for opera than a musical like West Side Story.
The music, composed by Leonard Bernstein, with lyrics by Stephen Sondheim, is just as I remembered it to be. The CD begins with the Prologue, a mix of music from the entire musical, and is followed by the energetic Jet Song, one of my favorites. Another of my favorites, though I wish a different singer had been picked to perform it, is Maria, an ode to Tonyís love that appears on Track 8 of this album. Grigolo literally overpowers Westenra as Tony and Maria sing the Balcony Scene (Tonight) on Track 10. I loved the renditions of America and Gee, Officer Krupke, two sarcastically funny songs that I have always enjoyed. In all of the versions of West Side Story I have watched or listened to, it seems that no one (thankfully) can mess these songs up. The best track of the entire album would have to be Somewhere featuring Connie Fisher, whose vocals on this track come close to the rendition done by Barbra Streisand some time ago.
On a whole, I was somewhat disappointed with this 50th Anniversary Edition of West Side Story. The music was excellent, the lyrics were the same as I remembered, but Iím afraid that Vittorio Grigolo in the role of Tony ruined the musical for me. His voice was overpowering and just didnít sound suited for the role of a street-wise Italian American gang member. I would only recommend the West Side Story: 50th Anniversary Edition CD to diehard collectors who must have every version of their favorite musical. Otherwise, I can assure you that there are quite a few versions of West Side Story in soundtrack format that are superior to this one. In short, donít waste your money on the full price of this CD Ė wait for it to hit the bargain bins if you feel you must purchase it at all.