West Side Story: read the reviews for Steven Spielberg's musical remake

We recently shared the early responses to Steven Spielberg's West Side Story. Now, the full-length reviews have started to pour in – and they're indicating an ecstatic, visually dazzling and emotional musical remake. 

Critics are largely unanimous in their appraisal: director Spielberg, screenwriter Tony Kushner and the assembled cast and crew have more than done justice to the legacy of the original movie. Released in 1961, the first West Side Story was a joint effort between composer Leonard Bernstein and lyricist Stephen Sondheim, who sought to adapt their runaway 1957 Broadway hit. For the new movie, composer David Newman (Matilda) works hand in hand with conductor Gustavo Dudamel to arrange and adapt the original movie's classic numbers, from 'America' to 'I Feel Pretty' and much more.

So, what have the critics been saying? Here's a small sampling of their reactions, beginning with the five-star appraisal from Peter Bradshaw in The Guardian. He raves: "Steven Spielberg’s West Side Story 2.0 is an ecstatic act of ancestor-worship: a vividly dreamed, cunningly modified and visually staggering revival. No one but Spielberg could have brought it off, creating a movie in which Leonard Bernstein’s score and Stephen Sondheim’s lyrics blaze out with fierce new clarity."

Bradshaw adds: "Daringly, and maybe almost defiantly, it reproduces the original period ambience with stunning digital fabrications of late-50s New York whose authentic detail co-exists with an unashamed theatricality. On the big screen the effect is hyperreal, as if you have somehow hallucinated your way back 70 years on to both the musical stage for the Broadway opening night and also the city streets outside."

Empire Magazine also awards the movie five stars and praises Spielberg's vision: "It’s Spielberg who is the MVP. He keeps the expressionist colours and bold shapes of the ’61 film but opens out the stage to the real world, mixing showy shots, like the stretching shadows of the Jets and Sharks meeting on a battlefield, and lived-in communities, like the giant street party that is ‘America’, without losing sight of the emotion. Let’s hope this is the first and not the only Spielberg musical."

"With West Side Story, a lavish and dynamically orchestrated new adaptation of the timeless musical, Steven Spielberg finally unleashes his inner theater kid—the song and dance enthusiast who’s been there from the start, tapping his toes behind the scenes of a whole line of extravagant blockbusters," writes A.A. Dowd for The A.V. Club. "Hasn’t there always been something rather musical about Spielberg’s camera? Even in a dry newspaper procedural, it glides and pirouettes. And only Hollywood’s eternal Peter Pan could give rampaging reptiles an almost balletic grace. To watch his nimble event movies is to see the hint—the glorious shadow play—of an MGM spectacle he’s had in him all this time. It’s thrilling to watch him finally realize that ambition."

Entertainment Weekly writer Leah Greenblatt praises Spielberg's ability to update those themes that were once implict: "What's surprising is how well Spielberg and Kushner massage the text to make it fresh without losing essential fidelity to the story: A trans character (Iris Menas) comes more explicitly into focus, and the teenage hooligans, beneath their ducktailed hair and rolled cuffs, pulse with a modernity that feels urgent and real. It's still the '50s, but sex and danger are more than implied here, and so are the realities of race and class."

Linda Marric, writing for The Jewish Chronicle, agrees: "Spielberg has well and truly knocked it out of the park with this ingenious and gorgeously performed musical. Adding a few modern twists to this classic loved story, he has given us a visually stunning production which more than does justice to Leonard Bernstein’s timeless numbers and Jerome Robbins’s arresting choreography. Props have to be given to whoever had the genuinely brilliant idea of forgoing the English subtitles to the Spanish dialogue which makes up almost half of the film, proving once again that Spielberg is always ahead of the curve and with his finger firmly on the pulse of changing socio-political perceptions."

Needless to say, not everyone has been won over. Writing for The Independent, Clarisse Loughrey says the movie is lacking in a certain something: "Anyone who goes into Spielberg’s West Side Story expecting radical revisionism will find exactly the same themes as before, only now repeated a little more forcefully... Even the film’s strongest creative decision, to have the Latin characters shift authentically between Spanish and English as they speak, with the Spanish left unsubtitled, isn’t technically new – Lin-Manuel Miranda was hired to do exactly the same for a 2009 stage revival."

Well, you've heard from the critics. Click here to book your tickets for West Side Story and make your own mind up when the movie is released in Cineworld cinemas on 10th December.