“The reason was because in the original film by Robert Wise and Jerome Robbins, ‘I Feel Pretty’ heralds the rumbling. It happens when Tony and Maria know they exist in the world together and she celebrates the happiest moment of her life. But in the original play, and the reason Sondheim explained to me that it happened, they came up to him and said, “You have to write an upbeat number, because by the end of the second act, Bernardo and Riff are dead, and that Audience sobs from the concession area and we come back with more tragedy after they’ve had their break. So we have to pick them up again. ‘ So, under protest, Sondheim wrote ‘I Feel Pretty’ with Lenny [Bernstein] and it works. It got the audience back on their feet.”
He continues, “Well, in our film, it also follows the rumble, and I didn’t know if the audience would be able to recover without that 15-minute or 20-minute break [and accept] that she would even have this moment. And then Tony explained to me, and then I explained to Stephen – and he paused for a long time on the phone – that this is the first time in our history that the entire audience is ahead of Maria’s story. And audiences will feel very protective of her because we know she’s going to find out soon. So it went back in.”
Indeed, the finished scene, which takes place after hours in a Midtown department store, is laced with a tragic sense of irony. Luckily, Maria is unaware that her brother is dead and that her lover is his killer as she gallops through the shops. It also addresses Sondheim’s long public criticism of his own lyrics in that song: She sounds less like a young and impoverished Puerto Rican woman who still speaks English and more like a witty 27-year-old white man trying to show himself off from clever puns. Well, in the Kushner version of the scene, Zegler’s Maria is inspired by the posh Gimbels displays (and gently mocks them with their mimicry) aimed at the white women of the Upper East Side.
Still, there were times during the DGA event when Spielberg and his frequent screenwriter switched shoes. In fact, the above revelation ties into another anecdote revealed by Kushner: He and Spielberg had their biggest creative argument over the song “Officer Krupke.” Despite years of collaboration on challenging films like Munichwhich tackled the 1972 massacre of Israeli athletes at the Olympic Games and their nation’s spy responses, and Lincolnthe ambitious biopic about the 16th President of the United States, it was the placement of “Krupke” in the second half of the film (just like the ’57 production!) that caused Spielberg to lose his composure.
“The only song we didn’t agree on was that I wanted to put ‘Krupke’ in the second act where it was originally supposed to be,” says Kushner, “and you had the most violent reaction to anything I’ve ever done ! Do you remember a point in the long process of doing? Lincoln, I wrote a scene where there was this fantasy character, an old lady who visits Lincoln and then falls out of a window or something? You were very polite then. “Oh yes, that’s interesting, but maybe not.” but [on this] They said: “I loved the script until I got to ‘Krupke’ and then it ruined it for me! Never! It’ll never be there, get it out of there! Rewrite the whole thing, I can’t show anyone unless you bring it out! ‘ So it was pushed in the first act.”
After pausing for audience laughter, Kushner adds that he deeply regretted that decision until he saw the finished film and realized that Spielberg made the right choice. But then the most impressive thing about Spielberg and Kushner Westside Story so much of it seems like the right choice, leading many (including us) to believe it did the impossible and surpassed the 1961 adaptation.