West Side Story is a very rare and special musical that's in a class by itself. Never has there been a musical that's so spectacular on both stage and screen alike. Because of the subject matter, the intensely brilliant Leonard Bernstein musical score that combines jazz, pop, Latin, Calypso and classical music into one score, the beautifully-choreographed dancing by (the late) Jerome Robbins, as well as where the very story behind West Side Story is set, West Side Storyis one of the few musicals that is not only equally successful on stage and screen, but is equally exciting, as well.
There are some definite advantages to both film and live theatre. Whereas film absolutely demands one's full attention due to looming larger than life-sized on a great big, wide movie theatre screen, it takes more effort to maintain the wave of communication between real live actors/actresses on stage, due to the fact that stage productions require a much narrower focus and a higher amount of concentration to maintain that wave of communication. In either event, however, West Side Story is a musical that automatically captures the attention of the audience and keeps the wave(s) of communication between the actors/actresses and audiences intact due to the overall exciting quality. The fact that West Side Story was preserved as a larger-than-lifesized piece of theatre when it was transferred from stage to screen is one of the things that makes it so special--and exciting, and successful on screen, as well as on stage.
Here's something else about West Side Story that bears mentioning, as well: West Side Story is a musical that requires a top-notch orchestra, a top-notch cast, and top-notch scenery that's well designed, as well as people who really know how to dance, sing and act. Many people have grumbled about the fact that neither Natalie Wood or Richard Beymer knew how to act, dance or sing and that their voices had to be dubbed. As a devout fan of the film version of West Side Story who's also seen several very good stage productions of the original Broadway stage production and who's also fully aware that the dubbing of singing voices when making musicals into movies was quite common during that general period, and due to my intense love for the film version of WSS, I have been more than willing to overlook the fact that both Natalie Wood's and Richard Beymer singing voices were dubbed.
Because the Beymer-bashing has gotten so out of hand in many circles, I have been more than willing to give Richard Beymer the benefit of the doubt, despite my having initially thought that he played a weak, somewhat lackluster Tony in the film version of West Side Story. I realize that Richard Beymer was a stronger Tony than I originally thought, due to the fact that he was very tender in his romantic outlook towards Maria, and the fact that the old "street" Tony emerged in the end, when he retaliated against Bernardo after he'd stabbed Riff to death, by doing likewise to Bernardo. West Side Story, in either instance, sends yet another, somewhat more sordid message: That escaping one's environmental and familial upbringing is far easier said than done.
Another thing that puts West Side Story in such a special class by itself is the fact that not only are there so many intensely different emotions, ranging from exuberance, arrogance, toughness, cockiness, gentleness, love, romance, hatred, violence, death, and possible reconciliation between the Jets and Sharks, but that they're expressed, quite vividly and intensely, through dance, as well as beautifully created scenery on both stage and screen. As I've also pointed out, the message that West Side Story conveys is quite unique, despite the fact that it's a somewhat double-edged sword, which also makes this great movie/musical as special as it is.
The people who said that there would never, ever be a movie/musical like West Side Story again were 100% right on their money, and I firmly stand by my conviction that no re-make of the film version of West Side Story could ever take the place of the original 1961 film, or even the more-up-to-date Broadway stage version of WSS, will ever take the place of the original.