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West Side Story songs ranked! As Spielberg prepares to release his version, we dig into the music

·4 min read
Film: West Side Story (1961) with Natalie Wood as Maria and Richard Beymer as Tony. (Handout)
Film: West Side Story (1961) with Natalie Wood as Maria and Richard Beymer as Tony. (Handout)

Something’s coming. Audiences are days away from experiencing Steven Spielberg’s reimagined version of the hit musical West Side Story. The original score, written by Leonard Bernstein and Stephen Sondheim, debuted more than six decades ago in 1958 and has been a stronghold in the musical world ever since. The 1961 film adaptation took home 10 Oscars that year, including Best Musical Score, and to this day, it holds the title for most Oscar wins for a musical.

As Steven Spielberg’s West Side Story prepares to take centre stage, we’re paying homage to one of the greatest musical scores of all time. From Somewhere to I Feel Pretty, here’s a definitive - but absolutely subjective - list of West Side Story’s songs ranked from best to worst.

Somewhere

West Side Story wouldn’t be the musical it is without this song. The beautiful duet emphasises the underlying message of the film, which is love and a need to belong. The most heartbreaking and hopeful moments of this show on stage and screen have this song playing in the background.

America

Led by Anita (played by Rita Moreno, who stars in Spielberg’s new version in a new role) this sassy, Latin American-inspired ensemble takes the cake for highest energy. The female Sharks are stating their case as to why America is so much better than Puerto Rico (the boys are less convinced). It’s five minutes of nonstop clapbacks, high kicks and fun. What’s not to love?

Gee, Officer Krupke

An upbeat moment in the West Side Story soundtrack, this song is quite playful and comical. The Jets sing to each other about why they are the way they are - deprived, neglected, simply misunderstood and that deep down inside there is good. There is good. And it is good.

Tonight Quintet

This up-tempo number, which includes the entire cast, builds and has so much movement, the audience knows something big is about to happen. The song leads into the Sharks and Jets rumble - the turning point of the musical from which there’s no going back. The crescendo leading to the high note at the end sends chills up my back. I can’t say that for any of the other melodies in the show.

Tonight

Ah, to be young and in love. This is Tony and Maria’s ode to each other about how life has truly just begun now that they’ve met. The couple serenade one another on the balcony where Maria lives - a nod to the source material, Shakespeare’s Romeo & Juliet - after meeting earlier that night at a dance.

One Hand One Heart

This is just a super sweet song. In the original film, Maria and Tony meet clandestinely at the dress shop where Maria works and discuss what it would be like to meet each others’ parents. It turns into a mock wedding scenario as the two sing vows to each other. This piece was originally written for the musical Candide but Leonard Bernstein decided it was a better fit for West Side Story. I concur.

Maria

Twenty-nine. That’s the number of times we hear the word Maria in West Side Story and this song contains 27 of them. In a love daze, Tony sings this number to himself after meeting Maria at the dance. How lovely it must be to have a song sung about you after one rendezvous. Maria definitely left a lasting impression.

I Feel Pretty

The most popular of West Side Story songs, this is a joyful quartet about the way love makes you feel. It’s fun to watch on screen and even to perform, but it’s so overplayed in other films, it’s become a bit of an annoyance (for some).

When You’re a Jet

Lyrically speaking, I enjoy this song. Melodically, it’s average at best. This is the audience’s first real intro to the Jets and while it’s a fine song, it doesn’t compare to the Sharks’ ensemble number America. The Jets got the short end of the stick with this one, though Gee, Officer Krupke makes up for it later in the musical.

Cool

The Jets perform this number after a run-in with the Sharks. The song is about playing it cool and not allowing your anger, frustration or urges to overcome you, which makes the whole thing a bit lacklustre and unnecessary.

A Boy Like That

I have a love-hate, but mostly hate, relationship with this song. There are parts that I enjoy (Maria’s) and others that are quite a bore (Anita’s). Frankly they feel like two completely different songs. Anita is sharing a last bit of furious advice with Maria after losing Bernardo and finding out about the younger woman’s relationship with Tony. This would have been a very different story had Maria taken it.

Something’s Coming

This is Tony’s moment to show off his chops. It shows him looking to the future having distanced himself from his childhood gang and it foreshadows his meeting with Maria, but as far as tunes go, I could do without. In fact, we almost did. This song was written last minute for the musical.

Steven Spielberg’s West Side Story is released on December 10

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