I started writing an essay with this title early this morning, only to have it just disappear on me when I was roughly halfway through it. It’s a royal pain in the ass when that happens, but I decided to wait until later today to try it again, as I was too exasperated to try to do it over again right away.
I’ll start out by saying that my initial introduction to West Side Story was through the music of the original Broadway stage production of this musical. It came while I was attending day camp out west in the summer of 1962, prior to entering the sixth grade. A girl in the group I was with, who’d just received an LP copy of the original Broadway soundtrack of WSS for her birthday, brought it to camp and played it for the rest of the group. My love of West Side Story took off…instantly.
West Side Story-mania was in the air that summer. Kids roamed the hallways, sometimes in groups, snapping their fingers, and the various songs from WSS rang through the bus to and from camp every day of the week, as the kids sang all the songs. It was cool.
I missed seeing the film version of West Side Story during the heyday of its popularity, partly due to my relative isolation from most of the other kids, and partly because my parents refused to take my sister and I to see it, at least in part because they didn’t think (and my mom still doesn’t think) that West Side Story was a kids’ movie. Having seen this great, golden oldie but keeper of a Classic movie/musical more times than I’m able or willing to count at this point, the more I think about it, the more I tend to agree with my mom on this point.
Since my parents also had an LP copy of the soundtrack of the original Broadway stage version of WSS, I played it on my parents’ Hi-Fi whenever I had the opportunity to do so, because I’d come to so love the music and the story of West Side Story itself. I would not get to see the movie until seven years later, as my high school years were coming to a close, and WSS, although there was a big national re-release of it, had passed the heyday of its popularity, freshness and newness.
I finally did get to see it for the first time, at around Christmastime of 1968, as a high school Senior, at a now-defunct cinema that was roughly 45 minutes north of Boston, and fell in love with this film the minute I saw it. Little did I, or my family know, that this was the start of my own love affair with the film West SIde Story that would last all the way up until the present, much to their amusement, chagrin and resigned acceptence of this particular idiosyncrasy of mine.