West Side Story: Original Film Soundtrack (LP)

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Leonard Bernstein's musical update of Romeo and Juliet, with a young Stephen Sondheim's brilliant lyrics, had already galvanized Broadway with its vivid reinvention as a parable of racial intolerance and generational conflict. But director Robert Wise's lavish widescreen presentation broke fresh ground by taking the story to its most impressionable audience, the teenagers who could identify directly with Tony and Maria, and opened up Jerome Robbins's kinetic choreography through bravura camera work. The original soundtrack album was not merely a huge seller but a unique touchstone for an otherwise rock-oriented audience.

With Richard Beymer, Marni Nixon (Hollywood's vocal doppelgänger of choice, here standing in for Natalie Wood), and Rita Moreno dominating, the show's bounty of terrific songs and exciting instrumental pieces remains an ear-filling treat, mixing operatic passions, tart social commentary, and high comedy. From "Tonight" to "One Hand, One Heart," "America" to "Jet Song," this is a landmark in American musical theatre and film beautifully realized on disc.

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Side 1 - Track 1. Prologue
Side 1 - Track 2. Jet Song
Side 1 - Track 3. Something's Coming
Side 1 - Track 4. Dance At The Gym
Side 1 - Track 5. Maria
Side 1 - Track 6. America
Side 1 - Track 7. Tonight

Side 2 - Track 1. Gee, Officer Krupkel
Side 2 - Track 2. I Feel Pretty
Side 2 - Track 3. One Hand, One Heart
Side 2 - Track 4. Quintet
Side 2 - Track 5. The Rumble
Side 2 - Track 6. Cool
Side 2 - Track 7. A Boy Like That & I Have A Love Somewhere (finale)

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"The soundtrack of the West Side Story film is deservedly one of the most popular soundtrack recordings of all time, and one of the relatively few to have attained long-term popularity beyond a specialized soundtrack/theatrical musical audience. (It is an entirely different recording, it should be emphasized, from the original Broadway cast recording, which was also a massive-selling album.) Its widespread impact could be attributed to a few factors: the wide range of compositional and orchestral styles, from cool swing jazz and shades of Latin pop to classical; the universality of the storyline, pitting underdog lovers against the world; and an assortment of songs that goes well beyond the sentimental love odes that are the staples of musicals (though it has some of those, too), including some downright tough posturing and sardonic social commentary. "Jet Song," "America," "Gee, Officer Krupke," "Tonight," "Cool," "Maria," "I Feel Pretty," and "Something's Coming" are all among the most famous and oft-sung soundtrack numbers ever.

Why might you want to upgrade if your familiar old album has been moldering in the collection for decades, or if you got it passed down for free from older relatives? Well, aside from the excellent remastered sound and historical liner notes about the film and soundtrack production, it has four tracks designated as previously unreleased. One of those, "Intermission Music," is pretty dispensable, as it's simply a 90-second instrumental version of "I Feel Pretty." But "Overture" is a worthy instrumental fanfare, and the "Finale" and "End Credits" that close the release have some supremely booming funereal tones, in keeping with the downbeat end of the film."

- Richie Unterberger, AllMusic.com

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