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West Side Story 2021 Film Review

Almost a week after the worldwide premiere of the new film version of West Side Story, astounding reviews continue to pour in from critics, fans, movie lovers and thespians everywhere. West Side Story has long been one of my all-time favorite Broadway musicals, although my very first exposure to the work was through the 1961 movie starring Natalie Wood, Richard Beymer, Rita Moreno, Russ Tamblyn and George Chakiris, followed by a viewing of the Broadway revival production in New York eleven years ago in 2010. I became even more appreciative of the story and its message of unity and acceptance when I was personally involved in an international production of the musical in 2017 with the Jakarta Performing Arts theatre group. When I learned that the great director Steven Spielberg was going to bring the musical back to the big screen, I was beyond thrilled that a new generation of movie and theatre fans gets to experience the West Side Story magic.

What I have seen is truly timeless, bold and fresh that I find myself gravitating towards this 2021 update even more than the original film. It truly is a wonderful and important piece of cinema. The plot, the cast, the music, the return of Moreno – who played Anita in the 1961 version and won an Academy Award for the role – as Valentina, and the overall production are really solid. Rachel Zegler is destined to be a movie star, and I’m so happy her talent is finally recognized globally with her graceful portrayal of Maria. Ariana DeBose is the perfect Anita, while Mike Faist and David Alvarez gave electric, scene-stealing performances as the leaders of the Jets and Sharks Riff and Bernardo. They both were as great as Tamblyn and Chakiris, and I’m glad to add both Faist and Alvarez to my list of new favorite actors.

One thing I notice about the film is it has a unique flavour in that it’s still West Side Story but with a touch of Steven Spielberg. As a Spielberg fan, I appreciate all the added scenes, alternate dialogues and gritty cinematography that brings a high level of realism to the movie. The Jets and Sharks’ intro scene feels like a real-life gang war. Also, while the original film presents itself more like a traditional stage production with isolated scenes, this one has a vibrant, realistic vibe. We could see regular New Yorkers passing by in the background and market stalls on the streets. It definitely feels like a New York story in the exact era where the story is set. The “America” number has a La La Land vibe to it, and setting it on the sunny streets of New York is simply perfect. It captures the spirit of the Puerto Rican community. Riff being there for the entire “Jets Song” is truly a delight, and the Mambo scene remains energetic and glorious. I enjoyed seeing more background stories from all the characters that enable viewers to understand why they do what they do.

Overall, West Side Story remains as iconic and cinematic as ever, and in 2021, it is still an important viewing. In multicultural places like America, racism never dies, but with West Side Story, there’s always hope for unity, acceptance and appreciation for diversity – there’s a place for us.

Special thanks to Mr. Spielberg and the entire cast and crew for keeping the timeless story and music going. And here’s to the influential Stephen Sondheim, who recently passed away, for helping give audiences all over the world such an impactful musical.

Me and My “West Side Story” Broadway Debut

Boy, boy, crazy boy, stay cool boy…
Got a rocket in your pocket…
Keep coolly cool, boy!

If you told me many moons ago that I was going to be part of a Broadway production, I would’ve laughed at that humor. Never in a million years have I dreamed of seeing my name and picture inside a Playbill. But then West Side Story came along.

Having been a fan of both the Broadway show and Academy Award-winning film, it was a privilege to be able to join the Jakarta Performing Arts Community on its West Side Story adventure (its 8th AND biggest production to date after the success of their previous shows like Burlesque, Fame and The Nightmare Before Christmas). With a global message about acceptance and tolerance, the timing couldn’t have been more right for this timeless musical to be introduced (and reintroduced) to different generations. And so we all made our debut on May 12th at one of Jakarta’s oldest theaters Taman Ismail Marzuki (TIM), followed by 4 more shows until closing night on Sunday the 14th.

My time as one of the vocal coaches for the West Side Story cast has impacted my life and opened up a unique path in my music career to always strive to tell stories for the betterment of society through music and lyrics. Thanks Stephen Sondheim, Leonard Bernstein and Arthur Laurents for being the ones to start it all and to all the cast and crews who I was honored to embark on this journey with.

For my international friends who didn’t get to see this, I have copies of the exclusive West Side Story program book for the first 3 names who contacted me to request one. 🙂 Shoot me an e-mail or tweet me to get yours. Or simply comment below. You might be one of the lucky ones. “Could be… Who knows…” 😉

TWITTER: @JulesOfficial_

To learn more about JPAC, go check out!

Annie on Broadway in Jakarta

You’re never fully dressed without a smile…

And so Annie delighted viewers in Jakarta during the Broadway production’s international tour this past summer.

What started out as a 1924 comic strip called Little Orphan Annie has finally evolved into a phenomenon with the story existing in various forms, including radio shows and three motion pictures – the original 1982 version, a made-for-TV movie in 1999 by Walt Disney Productions (Academy Award winner Kathy Bates played the infamous Miss Hannigan while Alan Cumming and pre-Wicked Kristin Chenoweth took on the roles of Rooster and Lily St Regis) and the latest modernized version with the great Jamie Foxx as big-hearted millionaire Oliver Warbucks. On theater, Annie is now a Tony-winning show with a worldwide appeal, and I had the privilege of seeing its Jakarta debut on August 6th at the Ciputra Artpreneur Theater & Gallery, home to all the Broadway shows that have made their way to Jakarta (beginning with Beauty and the Beast last year, followed by The Sound of Music and Shrek).

Set in 1930’s New York, the plot revolves around Annie as she ventures the city in search of her parents, not knowing Mr. Warbucks is her key to everything. The rags to riches theme couldn’t have been more majestically delivered. Promising starlet Heidi Grey’s portrayal of Annie was fantastic, making her worthy to root for. The girl’s got spunk and charm. All the tunes I’m sure we’re all familiar with also added to my enjoyment. From the timeless classic “Tomorrow” and the glorious “NYC” to Miss Hannigan’s personal anthem about her persistence in finding that “Easy Street” and “Something Was Missing” that emphasizes the bond between Annie and Mr. Warbucks, these songs intertwine with the classic story that still remains relevant today with its ongoing message about bravery and staying optimistic through hard times as it paints a portrait of humanity in Great Depression-era New York.

A number of merchandises were sold at the venue, including a program book, an exclusive T-shirt with the Annie logo on it and a tumbler.


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