Spielberg’s West Side Story: A musical masterpiece

There is something entrancing about the idea of revival. Yet it is also deceiving, especially when what is being revived is itself a revival. Such is the case with Steven Spielberg’s West Side Story, a revival of the original musical based on Shakespeare’s Romeo and Juliet. In addition to classical composer Leonard Bernstein’s spellbinding score, the moving musical reminds me of another Shakespeare play of the highest calibre: Hamlet.

A snapshot from Spielberg’s West Side Story.

In Hamlet, the quest for revenge leads Hamlet to a predictably destructive quest that ends in the demise of himself and those around him, friend or foe. But his love for Ophelia leads Hamlet to confusion, although her suicide, driven by his mania and murderous spree, leads to the acceleration of his decline. In Romeo and Juliet, the vengeful feud between Montagues and Capulets is rekindled by the love between the two protagonists from two opposing houses. At the heart of both plays is the idea that mutual annihilation stems not merely from mutual hatred but also from the blossoming flower of mutual love. The mutual elimination of the extremes is the annihilation of the mean. As in the film Annihilation, what springs from this well of defeat is something new, but the readers, listeners, or observers are not given long enough to see it. The waning of war does not bring the promise of peace, unless the lessons are learned, the promise rings true, and the combatants move on.

Tragedy comes in many forms. Above all, it comes in times when we feel the pressure of pain and the fear of defeat. From this symbolic death of hope, true hope is born. Perhaps this insight is worthy of a musical masterpiece: art with the aim of an archer, who thinks before firing their bow at the target. Then, they let their arrow fly true, and never look back.

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