'West Side Story'

Newcomer actress Rachel Zegler portrays a luminous “Maria” in Steven Spielberg’s remake of “West Side Story.”

WEST SIDE STORY (Theaters)

 With the balcony scene played on a fire escape, “Romeo and Juliet” morphed into “West Side Story,” and 60 years after the original movie, director Steven Spielberg reimagines and even manages to improve the classic musical.

Even though it is set in the 1950s, the latest film boasts a fresh relevance in its handling of topics such as immigration and race. Instead of white actors portraying Puerto Ricans, the Shark gang’s cast members are Hispanics.

Rita Moreno, an Oscar winner for the 1961 feature and a producer of this film, portrays Valentina, a sympathetic drugstore owner who employs ex-con Tony (Ansel Elgort). Valentina serves as the conscience of the fiercely divided Jets and Sharks.

Tied together by the best of Broadway’s glorious tunes (“Tonight,” “Maria,” “America”) by Leonard Bernstein and Stephen Sondheim, the revised tale of Shakespeare’s star-crossed lovers has a gritty feel.

Now the victim of the wrecking ball, the slum-filled West Side neighborhood will no longer be the gangs’ turf. Gentrification is coming.

The outstanding performers include newcomer Rachel Zigler as the luminous Maria. Her boxer brother and Sharks leader Bernardo (David Alvarez) is matched with the feisty Anita (Ariana Debose). Mike Faist plays Riff, the leader of the Jets.

Unlike in the previous film, the lead actors, mega-talented Elgort and Zigler, provide their own vocals.

Kudos belong to Justin Peck, the choreographer. Iconic filmmaker Spielberg imbues his first musical, a beautiful and tragic love story, with a heart-wrenching reality.

Rated PG-13

4 Stars

BEING THE RICARDOS (Theaters)

You are invited to take a backstage peek at an iconic American television show as “Being the Ricardos” succeeds as one of the best films of 2021.

Back in 1951, Lucille Ball (Nicole Kidman) and Desi Arnaz (Javier Bardem) and their staff of writers, producers and directors invented the TV sitcom—a revolutionary concept using a live audience and no laugh tracks. E

verything was going well for “I Love Lucy” until Walter Winchell said on his radio show that Ball was “a card-carrying Communist.” The dreaded House Un-American Activities Committee let it be known that they intended to question the actress.

Written and directed by Oscar winner Aaron Sorkin, “Being the Ricardos” focuses on one week during the show’s production schedule. Not only is the potential career-ending political threat a problem, but so is the question of Lucille and Desi’s bumpy marriage.

Kidman nails the role of Lucille Ball/Lucy Ricardo. She reveals the comic actor as an entertainer and business woman—outwardly a tough cookie, but inwardly an emotional mess who deeply loves her suspected philandering husband.

Although he is Spanish, Bardem as Desi Arnaz/Ricky Richardo also oozes the actor/musician’s trademark Cuban charm.

In like manner, the casting of Nina Arianda as Vivian Vance/Ethel Mertz and J.K. Simmons as William Frawley/Fred Mertz works very well. The supporting cast includes the behind-the-scenes career team at Desilu Studios. Alia Shawcat and Linda Lavin portray Madelyn Pugh. Tony Hale and John Rubinstein are Jesse Oppenheimer, and Jake Lacy and Ronny Cox play Bob Carroll, Jr.

Rated R

3 and 1/2 Stars

 Alice Reese is a member of the Dallas Fort Worth Film Critics Association. She reviews movies, arts and  entertainment for the Herald-Banner and for KETR.

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