Wednesday, December 08, 2010

Book Review: West Side Story (Music On Film Series) by Barry Monush

When I was offered the opportunity to read a review copy of a new book on WEST SIDE STORY, I jumped at the chance. I've always had a special love for this musical, and the timing to read the book couldn't have been better, given that I very recently saw the film on a theater screen for the first time in decades.

The book, authored by Barry Monush, is part of the new Music on Film series from Hal Leonard Corporation's Limelight Editions. It's a compact paperback, roughly 4 and 3/4 inches by 6 and 1/2 inches, but I was impressed with how much information was included in the book's 172 pages.

Monush gives a thorough overview of the musical's creation and Broadway history; the making of the movie and its success upon release; the soundtrack album; and the later careers of the principal cast members.

The longest section of the book covers every aspect of the film's production. It gives concise background on the film's producers and creators; how the film was cast; changes in lyrics between Broadway and Hollywood; location filming; dubbing; and much more.

The author is an engaging and interesting writer, and although much of the material was familiar to me, I very much enjoyed revisiting the show via this book. I also picked up many interesting new tidbits -- Suzanne Pleshette was tested for Maria?! I could see Anna Maria Alberghetti or Pier Angeli, who were among the candidates, but Pleshette surprised me.

The film's dubbing history, recounted in detail in the book, is fascinating in and of itself. Although Rita Moreno did her own singing for "America," she was dubbed by Betty Wand for "A Boy Like That" and by Marni Nixon in "Quintet." What's curious about Nixon dubbing Moreno is that Nixon also dubbed all Natalie Wood's singing, so she was singing for two different characters in "Quintet"!

Similarly odd was that although Russ Tamblyn did his own singing for "Gee, Officer Krupke," his singing in "The Jet Song" was dubbed by Tucker Smith, who plays Ice. (My daughter commented "No wonder I get confused about who's singing when I listen to the record.") The decision to substitute Smith's voice for Tamblyn was especially interesting given that, as a documentary on the Special Edition DVD demonstrates, Tamblyn was perfectly capable of doing his own singing of "The Jet Song."

The book includes the film's credits, a bibliography, and an index. There's an 8-page insert of photos on glossy paper; the pictures are nicely reproduced and include some color photos.

Monush is obviously well acquainted with his subject matter, and I didn't pick up on any errors, either substantive or typographical. This is a very well-written, informative book which is a "must" for those who love -- or wish to become acquainted with -- WEST SIDE STORY.

Another new book in the Music on Film series covers THIS IS SPINAL TAP. I have no familiarity with that film, but was intrigued that earlier this year Robert Osborne of Turner Classic Movies listed it as one of his favorite films. Future books in the series, coming next spring, are on CABARET and AMADEUS.

My thanks to Hal Leonard Corp. for providing the book for my review.


Blogger mel said...

Thank you for your insightful review on what looks to be a most interesting book.

Like you, I have always been fascinated by all aspects of WSS; but particularly with the dubbing of the songs in the movie.

Marni Nixon was (is) a very talented singer and was well known as a “chameleon”, i.e. she was easily able to imitate closely the voices of the actresses whose songs she dubbed.

Some of the decisions of the producers of the film were strange indeed. If you’ve seen “tom thumb” (sic) (1958) you’ll know that Russ Tamblyn was indubitably a capable singer.

Go figure…

9:28 PM  
Blogger Raquelle said...

It was a good thing I did passing this pitch over to you. You were the right person to review it. Loved this review and I'm glad it was thorough and relatively error-free.

6:42 AM  
Blogger Laura said...

I'm glad you enjoyed it, Mel! Hope you get to take a look at the book, I think you'd enjoy it.

I agree about Nixon -- I think her work with Deborah Kerr in THE KING AND I was also especially impressive. It was fun to see her on stage in a straight dramatic role a couple years ago, playing the mother of Professor Higgins (the late Christopher Cazenove) in MY FAIR LADY.

Raquelle, I'm so glad you mentioned the book's availability -- musicals are definitely my thing! :) Thanks again very much.

Best wishes,

9:25 AM  
Blogger Niamhy said...

Brilliant review-I really want to read the book now!

West Side Story is my favourite musical-I'm unashamedly addicted!

And lucky you! Getting to see it on the big screen!

11:59 AM  
Blogger panavia999 said...

Spinal Tap is really cute. Rent it or borrow it soon. Great parody. Even I like it and I've never seen a rockumentary because I don't like that kind of music.

6:11 PM  
Blogger Java Bean Rush said...

I've never heard of the Limelight Editions. It seems to be the U.S. version of the great BFI series of books about classic film. I will definitely check it out.

Suzanne Pleshette as Maria? Her very stare would cut a grown man to pieces. I'm afraid she wouldn't have carried off the fragility and innocence of Maria very well. Now, as acerbic Anita, Pleshette would have fared a little better.

4:45 AM  

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