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‘West Side Story’ dances to Blu-ray

MGM tuner celebrates 50th anni with new release

After successfully hyping the 45th anni of “The Sound of Music” last year, 20th Century Fox is taking the promo stage again to sell MGM musical “West Side Story” 50 years following its bow in theaters and marking its first time on Blu-ray.

In April, MGM renewed its deal with Fox to handle the release of its homevideo titles through 2016, a relationship that began in 2006. Fox has considerably more marketing resources to bring to bear on behalf of the MGM titles,especially as the latter has been working over the past year and half to maximize its assets after its latest reorganization.

Now, with the Lion ready to roar again, MGM will release a collector’s box set for “West Side Story” on Nov. 15, and is turning to Fox to push the pic through a variety of high-profile events leading up to the launch.

Push marks the first in a series of homevid launches to promote MGM’s extensive film library, which includes the James Bond franchise, “The Pink Panther” comedies and “Rocky,” all of which will also get anniversary relaunches starting in 2012.

“This film is to MGM what ‘Sound of Music’ is to Fox,” said Mary Daily, exec VP of marketing in North America for 20th Century Fox Home Entertainment. “It’s a perennial classic.”

The limited-edition “West Side Story” box will include a two-disc Blu-ray set, a restored DVD and tribute CD that includes covers of “I Feel Pretty,” by Julie Andrews, along with a 40-page hardcover photo book and other collectibles, such as the original animated title sequence and one-sheet created by Saul Bass (“Psycho,” “Vertigo”).

MGM previously released “West Side Story” on DVD in 2003, and has sold 4 million units since.

New gift set will retail for $49.99 while individual Blu-ray will be priced at $19.99.

A series of promo efforts will take place now through November, including this weekend’s screening of “West Side Story” at the Hollywood Bowl, and live perf of Leonard Bernstein’s score, with David Newman conducting the L.A. Philharmonic. It’ll mark the first time the score has been played by an orchestra since it was recorded in 1961.

That event will be followed by similar screenings and perfs in New York City in September and Chicago in November. Additional screenings in theaters are also planned.

“When you have a property like ‘West Side Story’ and ‘Sound of Music,’ where the music is so important and the spectacle is so important it just makes a lot of sense (to have screenings) where the audience can have a collective experience,” Daily said.

Promo push will see cast members, including Rita Moreno, making appearances. The film and some of its songs, including “Maria,” “America,” “Tonight,” and “I Feel Pretty,” will be integrated into various TV shows that air on Fox, similar to how “Glee” themed an episode around “The Rocky Horror Picture Show” when that musical had its Blu-ray debut. That effort aimed to court younger audiences who may not have been familiar with the 1975 pic.

Similar effort around “The Sound of Music,” which included most of the cast reuniting on “The Oprah Winfrey Show,” helped make the box set the top live-action catalog seller in 2010.

With DVD sales declining and Blu-ray still growing, studios are looking for every reason to get consumers excited about a home-video launch, even if it’s an older catalog title. An anniversary certainly helps.

Launches of older pics on Blu-ray come as 27 million households now have a player for the format in their homes.

“We’re seeing many people revisiting their favorite films or experiencing them for the first time,” Daily said.

And with the box sets, “What people want is something that’s collectible and meaningful and a complete compendium, as possible, to that title. We try to look for things that people haven’t seen before or haven’t seen the light of day in a long time. That’s our jumping-off point.”

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