Tony Loves Maria

Brad Miner | January 4, 2022

In a review of a less-than-stellar 2016 remake of Ben-Hur, I asked: “Why? Why a remake of Ben-Hur? Why ever remake anything, for that matter? Are there no original ideas?”

I haven’t changed my mind about that specific remake, but I have changed my mind, provisionally, about some remakes. After all, nobody objects to Broadway revivals of Guys and Dolls or Fiddler on the Roof.

Remaking a movie is a bit different, especially when casting in the earlier version has made it a classic. I can’t imagine Casablanca without Bogart and Bergman.

So, I was queasy about Steven Spielberg’s remake of West Side Story, because the 10-Oscar-winning 1961 original, directed by Robert Wise with choreography by Jerome Robbins, was such an electrifying experience. After seeing it, I and some of my high-school football teammates walked down the main street in town attempting to dance as the Jets do at the start of Wise’s film.

I left the theater this time wishing my aged knees would still allow me to slide and leap.

The opening sequence of Spielberg’s version (choreographed by Justin Peck) is nearly as good and in some ways better. And I know why: casting. It’s not that actor-dancer Russ Tamblyn (as Riff) and the rest of his 1961 Jets gang weren’t very good; it’s that Mike Faist’s Riff and the ensemble of Spielberg’s delinquents are better. For starters, they look better: more like rough street kids spoiling for a rumble and less like guys who left their leotards in lockers at City Ballet.

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