Song of the Day #4,988: ‘America’ – Ariana DeBose & David Alvarez

The 2021 movie year was chock full of musicals, and today’s memorable music moment comes from my favorite of them — Steven Spielberg’s take on the classic stage show West Side Story.

I watched Robert Wise’s 1961 version a couple of years ago, during my quest to see the 25 musicals deemed essential by the American Film Institute. The film placed at #2 on that list, but I wasn’t a fan. I did, however, love Rita Moreno’s Oscar-winning portrayal of Anita, easily the highlight of that film.

I’ll have more to say in coming weeks about how Spielberg’s version tops the original in every way, but today I’m just focusing on my favorite musical moment.

Not surprisingly, it features Anita, though now played by the amazing Ariana DeBose. DeBose had huge shoes to fill and she was more than up to the challenge, turning in the film’s most electrifying and emotional performance.

‘America’ was the standout scene in the original film, and it also has that distinction in the new one. Mostly that is due to the centering of Anita, but it’s also one of the musical’s catchiest tunes, and it features some spectacular dancing in the streets of New York.

As Anita spars with beau Bernardo about the merits of relocating from Puerto Rico to New York City, DeBose’s swirling yellow dress underscores the optimism of her character, while the blood-red petticoats foreshadow the painful developments to come.

It took Spielberg, one of the most visually inventive directors, 50 years to try his hand at a musical. This scene was worth the wait.

[Here’s a quick clip about the ‘America’ sequence; the song is included below]

[ANITA]
Puerto Rico
You lovely island
Island of tropical breezes
Always the pineapples growing
Always the coffee blossoms blowing
And the money owing
And the babies crying
And the people trying
I like the island Manhattan
Smoke on your pipe and put that in!

[GIRLS]
I like to be in America
Okay by me in America
Everything free in America

[BERNARDO]
For a small fee in America

[ANITA]
Buying on credit is so nice

[BERNARDO]
One look at us and they charge twice

[ROSALIA]
I have my own washing machine

[INDIO]
What do you have though to keep clean?

[GIRLS]
Skyscrapers bloom in America
Cadillacs zoom in America
Industry boom in America

[BOYS]
Twelve in a room in America

[ANITA]
Lots of new housing with more space

[ALL]
Lots of doors slamming in our face

[ANITA]
I’ll get a terrace apartment

[BERNARDO]
Better get rid of your accent

[GIRLS]
Life can be bright in America

[BOYS]
If you can fight in America

[GIRLS]
Life is all right in America

[BOYS]
If you’re all white in America

[BOYS]
La la la la la la, America
America
La la la la la la, America

[ANITA]
America

[GIRLS]
Here you are free and you have pride

[BOYS]
Long as you stay on your own side

[GIRLS]
Free to do anything you choose

[BOYS]
Free to wait tables and shine shoes

[BERNARDO]
Everywhere grime in America
Organized crime in America
Terrible time in America

[ANITA]
You forget I’m in America

[BERNARDO]
I think I’ll go back to San Juan

[ANITA]
I know a boat you can get on (Bye Bye!)

[BERNARDO]
Everyone there will give big cheer!

[ANITA]
Everyone there will have moved here

5 thoughts on “Song of the Day #4,988: ‘America’ – Ariana DeBose & David Alvarez

  1. Dana Gallup says:

    Ariana DeBose’s performance as Anita (not Maria, played by Rachel Zegler 😉), was undoubtedly a highlight of this wonderful film. She is quite deserving of the Oscar that should inevitably be coming her way.

  2. Peg says:

    Loved the movie and that scene. Will be happy if she wins the oscar!

  3. Amy says:

    West Side Story warranted a retelling for many reasons, and Spielberg made so many good choices, from screenwriter to including Moreno to casting to choreographer, and on and on, that he deserves the Oscar. As does DeBose, who will more surely receive one. Not sure this is my favorite musical moment of the film, but it was exuberant and challenging, and I loved every moment of it.

  4. Maddie says:

    High key rooting for West Side to sweep at The Oscars. Excited for DeBose who feels like a lock at this point!

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