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A 50th birthday celebration for a classic musical.

Music Review: West Side Story Soundtrack

In celebration of the 50th anniversary of West Side Story's Broadway premiere, this updated soundtrack with Hayley Westenra as Maria and Vittorio Grigolo as Tony was released September 25.

Most everyone knows the plot line of this Leonard Bernstein musical, two young people who find love amidst the ethnic gang war of their families and friends. It's not a new idea, and is an intentional spin and attempt to modernize the classic Romeo and Juliet.

The musical takes place in Manhattan's Upper West Side and focuses on teen-aged Tony, a member of the Jets who falls in love with Marie, a sister to the leader of the rival Puerto Rican gang the Sharks. The original production debuted in 1957. It was adapted to film in 1961 and starred Natalie Wood and Richard Beymer in the key roles.

Many of the songs from the musical and film have become standards and are also known outside of the production: "I Feel Pretty," "America," "One Hand, One Heart," and "Tonight" are just a few. There are no surprises in this recording as the soundtrack stays true to the letter of the original, but the advancements in recording techniques are a more than obvious advantage. It is a clean and very full sounding rendition.

In the liner notes, Jamie Bernstein (daughter to Leonard Bernstein) speaks of how difficult it has been to cast the principals throughout the years. Not only did they have to be able to sing the score, which is not considered easy by any means, but they also needed to be able to dance, act, and still appear to be in their late teens. Have all these requirements been met with Westenra and Grigolo? Most definitely. But it's hard to imagine the crystal clear and rich voices coming from the young and innocent faces that adorn the booklet enclosed.

In "I Have a Love" Westenra is particularly impressive as she delivers her parts. Comparatively, Grigolo is equally impressive on the famous solo by Tony, "Maria." In, "Balcony Scene" (Tonight) their voices meld and harmonize in a way that would lead you to believe they had been singing together longer than they have, in fact, been alive.

For as long as I can remember West Side Story has been one of my favorite musicals and I have seen more productions of it than I care to count as well as heard many of the recorded soundtracks. I wondered if I would be disappointed by this anniversary soundtrack, for no other reason than the repetitiveness. How often can you re-do the same 20 tracks and still bring something fresh to the table? Apparently at least this once more.

What Westenra and Grigolo offer to this soundtrack, as well as the many who sing in the supporting roles, is not only a talented but an extremely fresh interpretation to the classic material. Or maybe the songs themselves are just timeless. Whatever the reason, if you cherish West Side Story, or just the music and styling of Leonard Bernstein, this disc is a must have.

About Connie Phillips

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