Plot Summary: Romeo and Juilet takes place on the streets of New York. Two rival gangs, the Jets and the Sharks, are battling over territory. The Jets (all white guys) want to challenge the Sharks (Puerto Rican immigrants with very heavy accents) to a rumble. Riff, the head Jet, asks Tony, his co-founder of the group who is now working in a drugstore, to come because of his reputation. While at the dance where they meet, Tony falls in love with Maria, the sister of Bernardo, head of the Sharks. Tension is greatly increased between the two groups, who have a war council that evening while Tony and Maria meet under her balcony. Maria asks Tony to try to stop the rumble, which, being a poor sap in love, he tries to do. Instead of the fair fight that was supposed to happen, a switchblade battle between Riff and Bernardo ensues. Riff is stabbed by Bernardo, Tony stabs Bernardo and the cops disperse the crowd. Tony hides in the basement of the drugstore from Chino, Bernardo's second-in-command, who plans to come and kill him. When Maria can't make it down to the drugstore to meet Tony, her friend tries to deliver a message, but is abused by the Jets and tells them that Chino killed Maria because he had found about Tony's relationship. Tony runs out into the street wanting to die...

Review: Everything that would have made this a fantastic play made it a poor movie. The suspension of disbelief needed to sustain any sort of coherency, which is so easy to sustain on a stage, is next to impossible on the small screen with realistic backdrops, fancy props, and costume changes galore. On stage, people wouldn't even think twice about the Jets dancing down the street, snapping all the while, but still being a tough street gang. In this movie, it just looked silly.

Additionally, this movie would certainly have benefitted from an intermission. The DVD wrapper estimated the length of the film at 152 minutes, over 2 and 1/2 hours. This was accentuated by somewhat odd pacing. Fast scenes were lightning quick, and slow scenes dragged on forever. In particular, the scene in the middle with Tony and Maria getting "married" in the bridal shoppe seemed dreadfully slow and somewhat creepy. The choreography was incredibly consistent, and most likely would have seemed much stronger with five minutes in the middle to stretch your legs.

Lastly, the characters, in the sense of their choice of actions, at many points seemed just plain stupid. I was somewhat surprised by this, but it was very much cleared up by a comment by LoriThomas to the effect of "In Shakespeare, the characters do stupid and unrealistic things as well." She's totally right. I've just been spoiled by a world that makes sense all of the time, where you don't ever have to suspend disbelief.

Now, I've done plenty of ragging on this film, but there were some very good things about it as well. The score, especially the vocal numbers were fantastic. Well, maybe not all of them, but there were some shining moments. The mambo at the dance before the war council was great, as were America (a Broadway showtune about the beauty and failing of the American dream from an immigrant's perspective), and of course, Tonight. The dancing was impeccable and the choreography very solid indeed.

Use of lighting was also elevated from what could have been done on the stage. Particularly strong were the fade from the Mambo into Tony and Maria falling in love, and the "natural" street lighting of the final scene.

See it for:

Rating: As is, two stars out of five (almost painful to sit through). With an intermission or in two sittings, three and a half.


I've actually always really liked the movie. And when I saw it on stage, I really didn't like it. It could just be that performance I saw was particularly bad. Eh, maybe I'm just weird. But I found your comment that it would be better on stage interesting, since that isn't what I found. RachelGabor


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