Album: West Side Story (1957)

Songfacts®:

  • Written by composer Leonard Bernstein and lyricist Stephen Sondheim, this upbeat number from West Side Story finds Maria giddy over her romance with Tony. Her confidence soars because she is "loved by a pretty wonderful boy," but her co-workers at the bridal shop think she's nuts: "She isn't in love, she's merely insane."

    The musical is an updated version of William Shakespeare's Romeo & Juliet, reimagining the star-crossed lovers in '50s-era New York City where they're caught between rival street gangs. Maria is a Puerto Rican immigrant whose brother is leader of the Sharks, while Tony is a former member of the Jets. In the stage musical, Maria bursts into "I Feel Pretty," unaware that Tony has just killed her brother. In the 1961 movie, the scene takes place before the killing.
  • Carol Lawrence originated the role of Maria on Broadway, but Natalie Wood was chosen for the film role. Wood, a child star-turned-dramatic actress, desperately wanted to do her own singing but was dubbed by Marni Nixon (Hear Wood's vocals). Nixon provided the singing voice for several stars, including Audrey Hepburn in My Fair Lady and Deborah Kerr in The King and I.
  • In the movie, the scene is set during the day instead of at night, which accounts for some changes in the lyrics. The play's "I feel pretty and witty and bright, and I pity any girl who isn't me tonight" was changed to "I feel pretty and witty and gay, and I pity any girl who isn't me today." Several TV commercials, from Nike to Pampers, used the original version and took heat from viewers who assumed the companies purposefully nixed the word "gay."
  • When Sondheim was asked about his famous musical in 2010, he called the score "embarrassing," especially this song. He said: "I'm fond of quoting 'I Feel Pretty.' The street girl is singing, 'It's alarming how charming I feel.' ... I just put my head under my wing and pretend I'm not there."
  • Adam Sandler sings this in the 2003 comedy Anger Management.
  • On the 2011 Glee episode "Born This Way," Quinn and Rachel sing this in a mashup with TLC's "Unpretty." The single version peaked at #22 in the US.
  • Kathleen Turner performed this when she played Chandler's dad on the Friends episode "The One With Chandler's Dad" in 2001. Jane Leeves sang it on the Frasier episode "The Show Where Woody Shows Up" in 1999, and Elizabeth Montgomery sang it on the Bewitched episode "Double, Double, Toil and Trouble" in 1967.
  • The Simpsons parodied this as "Homer's Food Song" aka "I Like Pizza":

    I like pizza.
    I like bagels.
    I like hot dogs, with mustard and beer...
    I'll eat eggplant.
    I could even eat a baby deer...
    La-la-la-la-la-la, la, la, la-la...
    Who's that baby deer on the lawn there...

Comments

Be the first to comment...

Editor's Picks

They Might Be Giants

They Might Be GiantsSongwriter Interviews

Who writes a song about a name they found in a phone book? That's just one of the everyday things these guys find to sing about. Anything in their field of vision or general scope of knowledge is fair game. If you cross paths with them, so are you.

Gary Louris of The Jayhawks

Gary Louris of The JayhawksSongwriter Interviews

The Jayhawks' song "Big Star" has special meaning to Gary, who explains how longevity and inspiration have trumped adulation.

Annie Haslam of Renaissance

Annie Haslam of RenaissanceSongwriter Interviews

The 5-octave voice of the classical rock band Renaissance, Annie is big on creative expression. In this talk, she covers Roy Wood, the history of the band, and where all the money went in the '70s.

Boz Scaggs

Boz ScaggsSongwriter Interviews

The "Lowdown" and "Lido Shuffle" singer makes a habit of playing with the best in the business.

Jon Foreman of Switchfoot

Jon Foreman of SwitchfootSongwriter Interviews

Switchfoot's frontman and main songwriter on what inspires the songs and how he got the freedom to say exactly what he means.

Lita Ford

Lita FordSongwriter Interviews

Lita talks about how they wrote songs in The Runaways, and how she feels about her biggest hit being written by somebody else.