'West Side Story' celebrates its 50th anniversary with special screenings

Richard Beymer and Natalie Wood played Tony and Maria in 1961’s West Side Story, which won 10 Oscars.

United Artists

Richard Beymer and Natalie Wood played Tony and Maria in 1961’s West Side Story, which won 10 Oscars.

Ready for some Wednesday morning earworms? "Maria … I've just met a girl named Maria …"

How about this one: "When you're a Jet, you're a Jet all the way. From your first cigarette, to your last dyin' day."

And of course, "I like to be in America! Okay by me in America!"

Surely you recognize the lyrics to West Side Story.

When the Broadway musical hit the big screen in 1961, the soundtrack became a bestseller. Even critics adored the film, with the New York Times in its review calling it "nothing short of a cinema masterpiece."

Tonight, select area theaters are celebrating the 50th anniversary of the classic with special screenings.

But before you roll up your sleeves and tell Officer Krupke what he can go do, learn a few more bits of trivia to impress the people sitting next to you at the theater.

THE SINGING: Natalie Wood (Maria) and Richard Beymer (Tony) played the star-crossed lovers, but their voices were far from heavenly. So their singing parts were dubbed by Marni Nixon and Jimmy Bryant. Rita Moreno (Anita), however, actually sang most of America and Quintet herself.

AND THE OSCAR GOES TO: West Side Story won 10 Oscars and was the first film to earn a Best Director statue for two directors (Robert Wise and Jerome Robbins). It's a feat that wouldn't be duplicated until 2008, when Joel and Ethan Coen won for No Country for Old Men.

ALMOST STARRING, THE KING: Elvis Presley was actually the directors' first pick to play the lead role of Tony. Legend has it that he turned it down on the advice of his manager, "Colonel" Tom Parker, who thought a gang movie would hurt the King's image — and because Elvis had a rumored romance with Natalie Wood a few years beforehand.

THE EVER-CHANGING LYRICS: The lyrics to several songs had to be changed from the randier stage production to a family-friendlier movie version. America had to be toned down because it was believed the song was too belittling to Puerto Ricans. And Gee Officer Krupke, despite removing profanity for the screen version, was still banned in Britain because of its mentions of drugs and "sexual ambiguity."

DOGGONE IT: West Side Story was a huge success at the box office in 1961, beating out other classics including Breakfast at Tiffany's, Splendor in the Grass and Blue Hawaii. But it still finished second overall. The top draw? Disney's One Hundred and One Dalmatians.

Compiled by Steve Spears, Times staff writer; Sources: IMDB.com, Westsidestory.com, New York Times

.if you go

'West Side Story'

Bay area theaters showing West Side Story tonight include Regency 20 in Brandon, Hyde Park Cinebistro in Tampa, Citrus Stadium 20 in Tampa and Grove 16 in Wesley Chapel. Show time varies by theater. Please check schedules.

'West Side Story' celebrates its 50th anniversary with special screenings 11/08/11 [Last modified: Tuesday, November 8, 2011 8:10pm]

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