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Production Problems on West Side Story

Shakespeare must have had production problems when he staged Romeo and Juliet.” Centuries later, “West Side Story”, a musical retelling of Shakespeare’s tragedy, certainly had production problems of its own. Here are just a few.

“West Side Story” is an exciting musical film with athletic choreography. The schedule and the strenuous numbers were a serious source of fatigue for the dancers. Throughout filming, the dancers suffered from illness and injury. Especially excruciating for them was dancing on cement in an enclosed parking lot for the “Cool” number. During rehearsals, Eliot Field (Baby John) danced with illness for as long as he could. He finally collapsed from pneumonia and was sent to the hospital.

Vocals were another concern for the filmmakers. Richard Beymer as Tony and Natalie Wood as Maria would have their singing dubbed by Jimmi Bryant and Marni Nixon, respectively. Marni Nixon said of Natalie Wood, “Natalie was perfectly musical, but I had the feeling that it was only gradually when they started working with her that they said to themselves, 'I don't think she is able to do it at all.' I was hanging around and not knowing how much of my voice was going to be used except for a few high notes that she knew she couldn't sustain. In the end, Natalie recorded everything to her own takes and sometimes was even out of synch. My main job was to fix up all the inconsistencies of her original recordings. I had to loop all the vocals after the film was finished.” Even Rita Moreno, who received a Best Supporting Oscar for her performance as Anita, had her vocals enhanced by Betty Wand for the “A Boy Like That” number.

It is remarkable that although their vocals may completely be their own, the performers were still able to accurately convey such moving, emotional performances. If you are interested in hearing Natalie Wood’s adequate Puerto Rican dialect in the film, a Special Edition DVD of “West Side Story” has been released where some of the original recordings of Natalie are restored.

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