As I was watching a musical the other day, I was realizing that people misunderstand musicals. In the "integrated" form, people don't understand why people are spontaneously breaking out into song. The songs actually move the plot along and they also allow the characters to say things that they otherwise wouldn't be able to say very convincingly in spoken word. Sometimes, what they sing about is self-referential too (about their character and where they are in relation to the plot). Here's a handy-dandy key to what the characters are really saying in a film musical like West Side Story:
When You're a Jet, You're a Jet All the Way:
Jets: We're cool cause we're in a gang. Later, we'll learn the invaluable lesson that gang violence is kind of dangerous, but for now in this stage of the story, we're blissfully unaware of it and are having as much fun in our gang-related activity as kids in Disneyworld.
Tony: Riff, I'm a lover, not a fighter. Besides, I had a chance to skim a copy of the script and I can't remember exactly what it was, but something good's in store for my character. Maybe, it's a girl or something else, I don't remember what. I don't remember the page number either, but I'm telling you, Riff, something good is coming up for me.
I Feel Pretty:
Maria: Hey girls, I know you all previously knew me as Bernardo's younger sister, but I am becoming more sexually mature and am ready to start competing with you in the dating pool. And may I add, I'm quite a hottie.
Mambo (Dance at the Gymnasium):
Jets: We're young, wild, sexually out-of-control and dangerous.
Sharks: So are we
Both groups: Well, the music is so lively, let's just take our energy out on the dance floor for now
Tony: Wow, this Maria girl is hot.
Shark Girls: America is so great. Everything's free and you can do whatever you want
Shark Boys: Actually, not everything's free. We have to work really hard in low-wage jobs and we're discriminated against because we're immigrants and don't have much opportunity
Shark Girls: Oh America is so great, all these bright lights and tall skyscrapers. Oh we have so much pride
Shark Boys: Bitches, are you not listening to us! We're second class citizens here.
Shark Girls: And did we mention how great buying on credit is? America's the best!
Shark Boys: OK, let's just agree to disagree
Riff: Let's take a break from all this fighting and deliver some socially relevant commentary on how society's failed us
Jets: How is that going to help us?
Riff: It's not, but it will help the songwriter look more intelligent and get higher praise from the critics
Jets: OK, but as long as we can add a catchy tune to it
One Hand, One Heart:
Tony and Maria: These lyrics make no sense, but the sentimental music will let the audience know that this is a sappy music number designed to provide a little filler
Maria and Tony: We're going to be together tonight, we're so in love.
Jets: Tonight, we're going to finally beat the crap out of the Sharks.
Sharks: Tonight, we're going to beat up the Jets
Anita: Oooh Bernardo! I love it when you talk about your knife fights. It turns me on.
Maria and Tony: There's a better place for us.
A Boy Like That:
Anita: You can't sleep with Tony because I'm a racist.
I Had a Love:
Maria: OK, but I'm not.
Maria and Tony: Things didn't work out between us, but maybe they can for you the audience, if you learn from the lesson of our story. Bear with us while we try to figure out a moralistic ending.
Other musical parodies:
American in Paris
Singing in the Rain
Meet me in St. Louis