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'West Side Story' Cast Members Excited About Re-release

17 Nov, 2011 By: Billy Gil

'West Side Story' stars George Chakiris, Rita Moreno and Russ Tamblyn

HOLLYWOOD, Calif. — All you had to do to realize the impact still felt by West Side Story, which has been re-released theatrically and hit Blu-ray Nov. 15, was look around and see all the young stars reveling in the 50-year-old film at its opening at the legendary Grauman's Chinese Theatre.

Such “So You Think You Can Dance” stars as Lauren Gottlieb and Stacey Tookey were on hand to pay tribute to a film that helped change the way musical films were viewed and ushered them into the modern age upon its release. As well, a bevy of movie and music stars, from Morgan Fairchild to Marilyn Manson, showed up to see the film on the big screen.

“Who doesn't love West Side Story? It's awesome,” said Jason Ritter, actor (“Parenthood”) and son of the late John Ritter, who has been a friend of the Tamblyn family ever since he starred with Amber Tamblyn, daughter of West Side Story star Russ Tamblyn (both also in attendance), on “Joan of Arcadia.”

The film, based on a play, which itself was based on “Romeo & Juliet,” details star-crossed lovers Maria (Natalie Wood) and Tony (Richard Beymer), whose love is interrupted by their gang ties — Maria's brother, Bernardo (George Chakiris), is head of the Puerto Rican gang the Sharks, while Tony is a member of the white Jets. Rita Moreno, who won the Best Supporting Actress Oscar for playing Anita, girlfriend of Bernardo, still stunning at nearly 80, said she didn't think the film would be a hit upon its release.

“I said, 'Oh, it's not going to do anything because this lady singing in a high operatic voice, Natalie [Wood], guys are dancing these peculiar steps with ballet steps, gangs? Who's going to buy that?'” Moreno said. “Well, I found out, everyone's going to buy it.”

Moreno, Russ Tamblyn and Chakiris appeared earlier in the day for a handprint ceremony in front of the Grauman's, significant for being the place the film originally premiered in 1961. Tamblyn, who played Jets leader Riff, said he was glad to play Riff, although that wasn't the part he initially wanted.

“I was in a contract at MGM, and I auditioned for the part of Tony,” Tamblyn said. “… They said, 'Oh, Richard Beymer got the part of Tony, but they've offered you the part of Riff.' I said, 'Riff? I can't do Riff. He's like a great dancer.' I sort of faked it. But [they] said, 'Well, do you want to think about it?' I said, 'Yes, I'll do it.'

“… I loved the show so much. I'd seen it in New York, and I was such a big fan. I was in the army at the time, and I bought the record and took it back.”

Tamblyn said he's looking forward to seeing the movie on Blu-ray.

“I have [a Blu-ray player],” he said. “I'm a member of the Academy [of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences], so … I try to get like a big, really good television set and good sound and Blu-ray because as a member of the Academy, you get all the movies, and I take it seriously.”

Chakiris said the film remains significant today, and that its themes of prejudice and conflicted love still are relatable.

“We always thought we were working on something of quality,” he said. “… [But] nobody imagined that 50 years later we'd be doing this. … Here we are, 50 years later, and people still love this movie, and this movie still continues to be played. It's fantastic.”

West Side Story is on Blu-ray Disc from 20th Century Fox Home Entertainment. Available in a two-disc Blu-ray or four-disc boxed set (with the two-disc Blu-ray, DVD, tribute CD and memorabilia), the sets include new special features on the film's dance sequences, a new featurette on the film's legacy, song-specific commentary and more.

About the Author: Billy Gil

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