Heinz Hall for the Performing Arts transformed, as it sometimes does, into a big cinema Friday night. In 1961, the film “West Side Story” was first shown at Grauman’s Chinese Theatre, in Hollywood, California. Fifty four years later the film had a new “debut” in Pittsburgh. This time the orchestral score was digitally removed from the soundtrack and replaced by a live orchestra.
Jayce Ogren conducted the Pittsburgh Symphony Orchestra sensitively and engagingly. An enthusiastic and responsive crowd applauded the dance scenes, which seemed exceptionally sensational in this setting. The most roaring of ovations, though, were heard when Leonard Bernstein’s name was shown, in graffiti scribbles, on the end credits.
Seeing the whole remastered film at Heinz Hall on the big screen with the award-winning score played by a live orchestra was a fascinatingly odd yet an incredibly satisfying experience. A large screen suspended over the stage did full justice to a movie shot in Panavision 70.
The original soundtrack sounded slightly unauthentic, sung and spoken voices had dissimilar traits/aspects, and combining in the live orchestra, which was also intensified, would have ordinarily been assumed to be an outward ongoing balancing act between conductor and orchestra and the film (to the audience at least.) Though, being that Ogren’s job was not to translate but to follow, he accomplished that so convincingly that the orchestra had no hiccups in following him at all. He is a fully captivating and passionate young conductor, and he was able to create quite a bit of intelligent adventure and feeling throughout.
The film’s laboriously poignant and romantic scenes, specifically during “One Hand, One Heart” in the dress shop, felt slightly phony when seen in the circumstance of a live performance setting, but even that was a sort of an advancement. It became more accessible/clear for the viewer to set apart good music from poor quality cinema.
In many ways this new “un-authenticity” was quite acceptable. The old “un-authenticity” of “West Side Story” is a deeply engaging visual experience, what with the Sharks and Jets dancing on city streets. And at Heinz Hall these dances became an amalgam between live performance and film, and were not just physically attractive but particularly convincing.