Let’s get one thing straight: this is not about my first crush. I had many fictional and celebrity crushes over the years. (Seriously. Ask me about my weird 6th grade thing for Joey Ramone from The Ramones. It’s a Story.)
This is about the first crushes I remember being significant.
Let’s get one more thing straight: I’m not!
I have, since about freshman year of high school, been in love with two characters from the musical West Side Story.
We first read Romeo and Juliet that year, and one of our assignments was to watch West Side Story and write a paper on it. I was super, super pumped to write a paper on a movie, which I think explains a lot about why I got into online journalism later on in life. It kind of wormed its way into my heart for various reasons (West Side Story is a very dance-heavy piece, and I was a dancer for 17 years), and to this day it’s still my favorite classic musical.
Looking back, I definitely recognize there are a lot of problematic elements with the show at large, and especially the film (in particular, I’m speaking towards the casting of non-Latinx actors in Latinx roles such as Natalie Wood, and the use of brownface on Greek actor George Chakiris as Bernardo). Still, as a dancer and a young person about the same age as the characters, this show had a big effect on me.
And I had it bad for Maria and Anybodys.
Let’s break it down:
Maria (originally played by Carol Lawrence, Natalie Wood in the film and Josefina Scaglione in the most recent Broadway revival)
Maria is beautiful, soft, yet feisty with a rebellious streak and a kind heart. West Side Story is heavily based on Shakespeare’s Romeo and Juliet – she’s the Juliet in this story. Maria is Chaotic Good. In my opinion, this is the best possible character alignment to have; she deeply values freedom and choice but has good intentions for herself and is compassionate toward others.
I think the moment I fell in love with Maria was watching Natalie Wood twirl in her white dress in the dress shop – an iconic scene shot with psychedelic influences that leads into the “Dance at the Gym” sequence. I think this was also the moment where I fell in love with camerawork as a means to tell a story abstractly. Maria’s shape swirls with reds and blues into a darkened, Technicolor scene fading into the dance. This happens again later on when Tony and Maria first dance together, and the room breaks away into the technicolor, darkened space again, where it’s just Tony and Maria, one hand, one heart, noticing each other for the first time, dancing and kissing.
In that moment, I really, really wanted to be Tony. (I think it’s worth mentioning here that I still like to sing “Maria”, his ode to her, in my voice lessons.)
Anybodys (originally played by Lee Becker, portrayed in the film by Susan Oakes)
Anybodys is a complicated character for me; she is the character I most identify with in West Side Story. Officially, Anybodys is a spunky character who desperately wants to be accepted by the Jets gang. She is described as a ‘tomboy’ in most casting breakdowns but has been interpreted by various groups of people as lying in various spaces on the gender and/or sexuality spectrum.
I do know that Anybodys was my “Ring Of Keys moment” – the moment you first see someone in the world (whether it be in real life or fiction) who is the living embodiment of your identity, as defined by the WNYC podcast Nancy.
I fixated on Anybodys for a long time. I didn’t know who she was or what she was like – in the grand scheme of the story, she’s a pretty minor character. But there was something about her I really knew I wanted to be like – to be with, too. I was, at the time, still beginning to come to terms with identifying as a lesbian. Anybodys’ existence hit me like a ton of bricks. After exploring myself more, at 26, Anybodys means more to me than I ever thought a theatre character would. Right up there with Alison Bechdel from Fun Home, Anybodys is one of my dream roles to play on stage.
Now I’ve found someone to spend my life with: I’ve met a lovely girl who is as compassionate and individualistic as Maria, as sharp and witty as Anybodys, and everything in between. But I’m glad I found West Side Story, and that I had these two to help me get there.
Who was your first fictional crush? Do you want to write about them for Rogues Portal? Email pitches to Samantha! (Submissions are unpaid at this time.)