World Library  
Flag as Inappropriate
Email this Article

West Side Story (musical)

Article Id: WHEBN0026334032
Reproduction Date:

Title: West Side Story (musical)  
Author: World Heritage Encyclopedia
Language: English
Subject: Gypsy: A Musical Fable, Music, Opera, Romeo and Juliet, Mass racial violence in the United States, Structuralism, Send in the Clowns, Time signature, Tom Waits, Pet Shop Boys
Publisher: World Heritage Encyclopedia

West Side Story (musical)

This article is about the Broadway musical. For other uses, see West Side Story (disambiguation).

West Side Story
Original Cast Recording
Music Leonard Bernstein
Lyrics Stephen Sondheim
Book Arthur Laurents
Basis William Shakespeare's Romeo and Juliet
Productions 1957 Broadway
1958 West End
1959 U.S. tour
1960 Broadway return
1961 Film
1980 Broadway revival
1997 UK tour and West End revival
2008 West End revival and UK tour
2009 Broadway revival and US tour
2013/2015 UK Tour
New York City portal
Dance portal

West Side Story is an American musical with a book by Arthur Laurents, music by Leonard Bernstein, lyrics by Stephen Sondheim, and conception and choreography by Jerome Robbins. It was inspired by William Shakespeare's play Romeo and Juliet.

The story is set in the East 40s and West 50s of the Upper West Side neighborhood in New York City in the mid-1950s, an ethnic, blue-collar neighborhood. (In the early 1960s much of the neighborhood would be cleared in an urban renewal project for the Lincoln Center, changing the neighborhood's character.)[1][2] The musical explores the rivalry between the Jets and the Sharks, two teenage street gangs of different ethnic backgrounds. The members of the Sharks from Puerto Rico are taunted by the Jets, a Polish-American working-class group.[3] The young protagonist, Tony, one of the Jets, falls in love with Maria, the sister of Bernardo, the leader of the Sharks. The dark theme, sophisticated music, extended dance scenes, and focus on social problems marked a turning point in American musical theatre. Bernstein's score for the musical includes "Something's Coming", "Maria", "America", "Somewhere", "Tonight", "Jet Song", "I Feel Pretty", "A Boy Like That", "One Hand, One Heart", "Gee, Officer Krupke", and "Cool".

The original 1957 Broadway production, directed and choreographed by Jerome Robbins and produced by Robert E. Griffith and Harold Prince, marked Sondheim's Broadway debut. It ran for 732 performances before going on tour. The production was nominated for six[4] Tony Awards including Best Musical in 1957, but the award for Best Musical went to Meredith Willson's The Music Man; it won one Tony for Robbins' choreography and one for Oliver Smith's scenic designs. The show had an even longer-running London production, a number of revivals and international productions. The play spawned an innovative 1961 musical film of the same name, directed by Robert Wise and Robbins, starring Natalie Wood, Richard Beymer, Rita Moreno, George Chakiris and Russ Tamblyn. The film won ten Academy Awards out of eleven nominations, including Best Picture.


Genesis of the concept

In 1947, Jerome Robbins approached Leonard Bernstein and Arthur Laurents about collaborating on a contemporary musical adaptation of Romeo and Juliet. He proposed that the plot focus on the conflict between an Irish American Roman Catholic family and a Jewish family living on the Lower East Side of Manhattan,[5] during the Easter–Passover season. The girl has survived the Holocaust and emigrated from Israel; the conflict was to be centered around anti-Semitism of the Catholic "Jets" towards the Jewish "Emeralds" (a name that made its way into the script as a reference).[6] Eager to write his first musical, Laurents immediately agreed. Bernstein wanted to present the material in operatic form, but Robbins and Laurents resisted the suggestion. They described the project as "lyric theatre", and Laurents wrote a first draft he called East Side Story. Only after he completed it did the group realize it was little more than a musicalization of themes that had already been covered in plays like Abie's Irish Rose. When he opted to drop out, the three men went their separate ways, and the piece was shelved for almost five years.[7][8]

In 1955, theatrical producer Martin Gabel was working on a stage adaptation of the James M. Cain novel Serenade, about an opera singer who comes to the realization he is homosexual, and he invited Laurents to write the book. Laurents accepted and suggested Bernstein and Robbins join the creative team. Robbins felt if the three were going to join forces, they should return to East Side Story, and Bernstein agreed. Laurents, however, was committed to Gabel, who introduced him to the young composer/lyricist Stephen Sondheim. Sondheim auditioned by playing the score for Saturday Night, his musical that was scheduled to open in the fall. Laurents liked the lyrics but was not impressed with the music. Sondheim did not care for Laurents' opinion. Serenade ultimately was shelved.[9]

Laurents was soon hired to write the screenplay for a remake of the 1934 Greta Garbo film The Painted Veil for Ava Gardner. While in Hollywood, he contacted Bernstein, who was in town conducting at the Hollywood Bowl. The two met at the Beverly Hills Hotel, and the conversation turned to juvenile delinquent gangs, a fairly recent social phenomenon that had received major coverage on the front pages of the morning newspapers due to a Chicano turf war. Bernstein suggested they rework East Side Story and set it in Los Angeles, but Laurents felt he was more familiar with Puerto Ricans and Harlem than he was with Mexican Americans and Olvera Street. The two contacted Robbins, who was enthusiastic about a musical with a Latin beat. He arrived in Hollywood to choreograph the dance sequences for The King and I, and he and Laurents began developing the musical while working on their respective projects, keeping in touch with Bernstein, who had returned to New York. When the producer of The Painted Veil replaced Gardner with Eleanor Parker and asked Laurents to revise his script with her in mind, he backed out of the film, freeing him to devote all his time to the stage musical.[10]

Collaboration and development

In New York, Laurents went to the opening night party for a new play by Ugo Betti, and there he met Sondheim, who had heard that East Side Story, now retitled West Side Story, was back on track. Bernstein had decided he needed to concentrate solely on the music, and he and Robbins had invited Betty Comden and Adolph Green to write the lyrics, but the team opted to work on Peter Pan instead. Laurents asked Sondheim if he would be interested in tackling the task. Initially he resisted, because he was determined to write the full score for his next project (Saturday Night had been aborted), but Oscar Hammerstein convinced him that he would benefit from the experience, and he accepted.[11] Meanwhile, Laurents had written a new draft of the book changing the characters' backgrounds: Anton, once an Irish American, was now of Polish and Irish descent, and the formerly Jewish Maria had become a Puerto Rican.[12]

The original book Laurents wrote closely adhered to Romeo and Juliet, but the characters based on Rosaline and the parents of the doomed lovers were eliminated early on. Later the scenes related to Juliet's faking her death and committing suicide also were deleted. Language posed a problem; four-letter curse words were uncommon in the theatre at the time, and slang expressions were avoided for fear they would be dated by the time the production opened. Laurents ultimately invented what sounded like real street talk but actually was not: "cut the frabba-jabba", for example.[13] Sondheim converted long passages of dialogue, and sometimes just a simple phrase like "A boy like that would kill your brother", into lyrics. With the help of Oscar Hammerstein, Laurents convinced Bernstein and Sondheim to move "One Hand, One Heart", which he considered too pristine for the balcony scene, to the scene set in the bridal shop, and as a result "Tonight" was written to replace it. Laurents felt that the building tension needed to be alleviated in order to increase the impact of the play's tragic outcome, so comic relief in the form of Officer Krupke was added to the second act. He was outvoted on other issues: he felt the lyrics to "America" and "I Feel Pretty" were too witty for the characters singing them, but they stayed in the score and proved to be audience favorites. Another song, "Kid Stuff", was added and quickly removed during the Washington, D.C. tryout when Laurents convinced the others it was helping tip the balance of the show into typical musical comedy.[14]

Bernstein composed West Side Story and Candide concurrently, which led to some switches of material between the two works.[15] Tony and Maria's duet, "One Hand, One Heart", was originally intended for Cunegonde in Candide. The music of "Gee, Officer Krupke" was pulled from the Venice scene in Candide.[16] Laurents explained the style that the creative team finally decided on:

Just as Tony and Maria, our Romeo and Juliet, set themselves apart from the other kids by their love, so we have tried to set them even further apart by their language, their songs, their movement. Wherever possible in the show, we have tried to heighten emotion or to articulate inarticulate adolescence through music, song or dance.

The show was nearly complete in the fall of 1956, but almost everyone on the creative team needed to fulfill other commitments first. Robbins was involved with Bells Are Ringing, then Bernstein with Candide, and in January 1957 A Clearing in the Woods, Laurents' latest play, opened and quickly closed.[18] When a backers' audition failed to raise any money for West Side Story late in the spring of 1957, only two months before the show was to begin rehearsals, producer Cheryl Crawford pulled out of the project.[19] Every other producer had already turned down the show, deeming it too dark and depressing. Bernstein was despondent, but Sondheim convinced his friend Hal Prince, who was in Boston overseeing the out-of-town tryout of the new George Abbott musical New Girl in Town, to read the script. He liked it but decided to ask Abbott, his longtime mentor, for his opinion, and Abbott advised him to turn it down. Prince, aware that Abbott was the primary reason New Girl was in trouble, decided to ignore him, and he and his producing partner Robert Griffith flew to New York to hear the score.[20] In his memoirs, Prince recalled, "Sondheim and Bernstein sat at the piano playing through the music, and soon I was singing along with them."[16]

Production period

Prince began cutting the budget and raising money. Robbins then announced he did not want to choreograph the show, but changed his mind when Prince agreed to an eight-week dance rehearsal period (instead of the customary four), since there was to be more dancing in West Side Story than in any previous Broadway show,[16] and allowed Robbins to hire Peter Gennaro as his assistant.[21] Originally, when considering the cast, Laurents wanted James Dean for the lead role of Tony, but the actor had died before hearing of it. Sondheim found Larry Kert and Chita Rivera, who created the roles of Tony and Anita, respectively. Getting the work on stage was still not easy. Bernstein told Rolling Stone:

Everyone told us that [West Side Story] was an impossible project ... And we were told no one was going to be able to sing augmented fourths, as with "Ma-ri-a" ... Also, they said the score was too rangy for pop music ... Besides, who wanted to see a show in which the first-act curtain comes down on two dead bodies lying on the stage?... And then we had the really tough problem of casting it, because the characters had to be able not only to sing but dance and act and be taken for teenagers. Ultimately, some of the cast were teenagers, some were 21, some were 30 but looked 16. Some were wonderful singers but couldn't dance very well, or vice versa ... and if they could do both, they couldn't act.

Throughout the rehearsal period, the New York newspapers were filled with articles about gang warfare, keeping the show's plot timely. Robbins kept the cast members playing the Sharks and the Jets separate in order to discourage them from socializing with each other and reminded everyone of the reality of gang violence by posting news stories on the bulletin board backstage.[23] Robbins wanted a gritty realism from his sneaker- and jeans-clad cast. He gave the ensemble more freedom than Broadway dancers had previously been given to interpret their roles, and the dancers were thrilled to be treated like actors instead of just choreographed bodies.[24] As the rehearsals wore on, Bernstein fought to keep his score together, as other members of the team called on him to cut out more and more of the sweeping or complex "operatic" passages.[16] Columbia Records initially declined to record the cast album, saying the score was too depressing and too difficult.[6]

There were problems with Oliver Smith's designs. His painted backdrops were stunning, but the sets were, for the most part, either shabby looking or too stylized. Prince refused to spend money on new construction, and Smith was obliged to improve what he had as best he could with very little money to do it.[25]

The pre-Broadway run in Washington, D.C. was a critical and commercial success, although none of the reviews mentioned Sondheim, listed as co-lyricist, who was overshadowed by the better-known Bernstein. Bernstein magnanimously removed his name as co-author of the lyrics, although Sondheim was uncertain he wanted to receive sole credit for what he considered to be overly florid contributions by Bernstein. Robbins demanded and received a "Conceived by" credit, and used it to justify his making major decisions regarding changes in the show without consulting the others. As a result, by opening night on Broadway, none of his collaborators were talking to him.[26]

It has been rumored that while Bernstein was off trying to fix the musical Candide, Sondheim wrote some of the music for West Side Story, and that Bernstein's co-lyricist billing mysteriously disappeared from the credits of West Side Story during the tryout, presumably as a trade-off.[27] However, Suskin states in Show Tunes that "As the writing progressed and the extent of Bernstein's lyric contributions became less, the composer agreed to rescind his credit...Contrary to rumor, Sondheim did not write music for the show; his only contribution came on "Something's Coming", where he developed the main strain of the chorus from music Bernstein wrote for the verse.[28])


Act 1

Two teenage gangs, the Jets (White) and the Sharks (Puerto Rican), struggle and rival for control of the neighborhood somewhere in the West Side of New York City amidst the police (Prologue). They are warned by Lt. Schrank and Officer Krupke to stop fighting on their beat. The police chase the Sharks off, and then the Jets plan how they can assure their continued dominance of the street. The Jets' leader, Riff, suggests setting up a rumble with the Sharks. He plans to make the challenge to Bernardo, the Sharks' leader, that night at the neighborhood dance. Riff wants to convince his friend and former member of the Jets, Tony, to meet the Jets at the dance, but some of the Jets are unsure of his loyalty ("Jet Song"). Riff meets Tony while he's working at Doc's Drugstore to persuade him to come. Loyal to Riff, Tony agrees, but he wants no further part of gang life and imagines a better future ("Something's Coming").

Maria works in a bridal shop with Anita, the girlfriend of her brother, Bernardo. Maria has just arrived from Puerto Rico, and her family has selected Chino, a member of the Sharks, to be her future husband. Anita makes Maria a dress to wear to the neighborhood dance.

At the dance, after introductions, the teenagers begin to dance; soon a challenge dance is called ("Dance at the Gym"), during which Tony and Maria (who aren't taking part in the challenge dance) see each other across the room and are drawn to each other. They dance together, forgetting the tension in the room, fall in love, and try to kiss, but Bernardo pulls his sister from Tony and sends her home. Riff and Bernardo agree to meet for a War Council at Doc's, a drug store which is considered neutral ground, but meanwhile, an infatuated and happy Tony finds Maria's building and serenades her outside her bedroom ("Maria"). He appears on her fire escape, and the two profess their love for one another ("Balcony Scene"). Meanwhile, Anita, Rosalia, and the other Shark girls discuss the differences between the territory of Puerto Rico and the mainland United States of America, with Anita defending America, and a girl named Rosalia yearning for Puerto Rico, ("América"). The Jets get antsy while waiting for the Sharks inside Doc's Drug Store. Riff helps them let out their aggression ("Cool"). The Sharks arrive to discuss weapons to use in the rumble. Tony suggests "a fair fight" (fists only), which the leaders agree to, despite the other members' protests. Bernardo believes that he will fight Tony, but must settle for fighting Diesel, Riff's second-in-command, instead. This is followed by a monologue by the ineffective Lt. Schrank trying to find out the location of the rumble. Tony tells Doc about Maria. Doc is worried for them while Tony is convinced that nothing can go wrong; he is in love.

The next day, Maria is in a very happy mood at the bridal shop, as she anticipates seeing Tony again. However, she learns about the upcoming rumble from Anita and is dismayed. When Tony arrives, Maria asks him to stop the fight altogether, which he agrees to do. Before he goes, they dream of their wedding ("One Hand, One Heart"). Tony, Maria, Anita, Bernardo and the Sharks, and Riff and the Jets all anticipate the events to come that night ("Tonight Quintet"). The gangs meet under the highway and, as the fight between Bernardo and Diesel begins, Tony arrives and tries to stop the rumble. Though Bernardo taunts Tony, ridiculing his attempt to make peace and provoking him in every way, Tony keeps his composure. When Bernardo pushes Tony, Riff punches him in Tony's defense. The two draw their switchblades and get in a fight ("The Rumble"). Tony tells Riff to back away, but Riff shakes him off and continues the fight. In an important moment of the show, Riff has an opportunity to stab Bernardo, but Tony holds him back. After shaking off Tony, Riff returns to the fight but is accidentally stabbed and killed by Bernardo in the process. Tony then takes Riff's knife and kills Bernardo in a fit of rage. The two gangs then go into a free-for-all. The sound of approaching sirens is heard, and everyone scatters, except Tony, who stands in shock at what he has done. The tomboy, Anybodys, who stubbornly wishes that she could become a Jet, tells Tony to flee from the scene at the last moment. Only the bodies of Riff and Bernardo remain.

Act 2

Blissfully unaware of the gangs' plans for that night, Maria daydreams about seeing Tony with her friends—Rosalia, Consuelo, Teresita and Francisca ("I Feel Pretty"). Later, as Maria dances on the roof happily because she has seen Tony and believes he went to stop the rumble. Chino brings the news that Tony has killed Bernardo. Maria flees to her bedroom, praying that Chino is lying. Tony arrives to see Maria and she initially pounds on his chest with rage, but she still loves him. They plan to run away together. As the walls of Maria's bedroom disappear, they find themselves in a dreamlike world of peace ("Somewhere").

A grieving Anita arrives at Maria's apartment. As Tony leaves, he tells Maria to meet him at Doc's so they can run away to the country. In spite of her attempts to conceal it, Anita sees that Tony has been with Maria, and launches an angry tirade against him, ("A Boy Like That"). Maria responds counters by telling Anita how powerful love is, ("I Have a Love"), though, and Anita realizes that Maria loves Tony as much as she had loved Bernardo. She admits that Chino has a gun and is looking for Tony.

Lt. Schrank arrives to question Maria about her brother's death, and Anita agrees to go to Doc's to tell Tony to wait. Unfortunately, the Jets, including Anybodys, who have found Tony, have congregated at Doc's, and they taunt Anita with racist slurs and eventually attack her physically. Doc arrives and stops them. Anita is furious, and in anger spitefully delivers the wrong message, telling the Jets that Chino has shot Maria dead.

Doc relates the news to Tony, who has been dreaming of heading to the countryside to have children with Maria. Feeling there is no longer anything to live for, Tony leaves to find Chino, begging for him to shoot him as well. Just as Tony sees Maria alive, Chino arrives and shoots Tony. The Jets, Sharks, and adults flock around the lovers. Maria holds Tony in her arms (and sings a quiet, brief reprise of "Somewhere") as he dies. Angry at the death of another friend, the Jets move towards the Sharks but Maria takes Chino's gun and tells everyone that "all of [them]" killed Tony and the others because of their hate for each other, and,"Now I can kill too, because now I have hate!" she yells. However, she is unable to bring herself to fire the gun and drops it, crying in grief. Gradually, all the members of both gangs assemble on either side of Tony's body, showing that the feud is over. The Jets and Sharks form a procession, and together carry Tony away, with Maria the last one in the procession.



  • Officer Krupke, an aggressive but inept cop
  • Doc, a weary old candy store owner
  • Glad Hand, the inept chaperone at the dance
  • Detective Schrank, a racist police lieutenant

Musical numbers

Shakespearean basis


Many of the key characters in West Side Story are based on counterparts in Romeo and Juliet:

Story parallels

  • Romeo and Juliet starts out with a street fight between the Montagues and Capulets; the Jets and the Sharks have a similar fight.
  • The beginning fight is broken up by Krupke and Schrank, just as Prince Escalus breaks up the Montague-Capulet fight.
  • Tony has a recurring dream, like the one Romeo describes to Mercutio.
  • Juliet is betrothed to Paris, and Maria has been set up with Chino.
  • Some Montague men crash the Capulet party in which Romeo meets Juliet. In West Side Story, Maria and Tony see each other from opposite sides of the gym and are immediately attracted to each other.
  • Romeo searches for Juliet and finds her at her balcony. After the dance, Tony finds Maria and uses the fire escape.
  • Romeo and Juliet go to a Friar to get married; Maria and Tony role-play a wedding during their tryst in the bridal shop.
  • In the rumble scene, Bernardo kills Riff like Tybalt kills Mercutio; Tony avenges Riff's death by killing Bernardo, just as Romeo kills Tybalt.
  • The Capulet nurse is played around with and disgraced by Montague men, while Anita is taunted and attacked by the Jets.
  • Both stories feature Maria/Juliet's false death and Tony/Romeo's suicidal response to his mistaken belief that his love is dead. An enraged Anita, following the attempted rape, deliberately tells the Jets that Chino has killed Maria, instead of conveying the original message of where Tony should meet with her. Juliet fakes her death, but an explanatory message sent to Romeo is delayed, causing him not to know her death is but feigned. Tony seeks out Chino in misery, wishing to die also. Romeo wishes to visit Juliet's grave to take poison and die with her.


Original Broadway production

After auditions in Washington, D.C. and Philadelphia beginning in August 1957, the original Broadway production opened at the Winter Garden Theatre on September 26, 1957 to positive reviews. The production was directed and choreographed by Jerome Robbins, produced by Robert E. Griffith and Harold Prince and starred Larry Kert as Tony, Carol Lawrence as Maria, Chita Rivera as Anita and David Winters as Baby John, the youngest of the gang members. Robbins won the Tony Award for Best Choreographer, and Oliver Smith won the Tony for Best Scenic Designer. Also nominated were Carol Lawrence, as Best Actress in a Supporting Role in a Musical, Max Goberman as Best Musical Director and Conductor, and Irene Sharaff for Best Costume Design. Carol Lawrence received the 1958 Theatre World Award. Lighting was designed by Jean Rosenthal. The production ran for 732 performances at the Winter Garden Theatre before touring and then returning to the Winter Garden Theatre in 1960 for another 253 performance engagement.

The other principal or notable cast members in the original production were: Anybodys: Lee Becker, Riff: Michael Callan, A-Rab: Tony Mordente, Action: Eddie Roll, Big Deal: Martin Charnin, Gee-Tar: Tommy Abbott; Velma: Carole D'Andrea, Bernardo: Ken Le Roy, Chino: Jamie Sanchez, Nibbles: Ronnie Lee; Rosalia: Marilyn Cooper, Consuelo: Reri Grist, Teresita: Carmen Gutierrez, Francisca: Elizabeth Taylor; Lt. Schrank: Arch Johnson, Doc: Art Smith, and Krupke: William Bramley.

Original London production

The 1958 European premiere at the Manchester Opera House transferred to London, where it opened at Her Majesty's Theatre in the West End on Friday December 12, 1958 and ran until June 1961 with a total of 1,039 performances. Robbins directed and choreographed, and it was co-choreographed by Peter Gennaro, with scenery by Oliver Smith. Featured performers were George Chakiris, who won an Academy Award as Bernardo in the 1961 film version, as Riff, Marlys Watters as Maria, Don McKay as Tony, and Chita Rivera reprising her Broadway role as Anita.[29] David Holliday, who had been playing Gladhand since the London opening, took over as Tony, playing opposite Roberta D'Esti's Maria, and Mary Preston as Anita.

In February 1962, the West End (H. M. Tennent) production launched a five-month Scandinavian tour opening in Copenhagen, continuing to Oslo, Goteborg, Stockholm and Helsinki. Robert Jeffrey took over from David Holliday as Tony and Jill Martin played Maria.

1980 Broadway revival

A Broadway revival opened at the Minskoff Theatre on February 14, 1980 and closed on November 30, 1980, after 333 performances. It was directed and choreographed by Robbins, with the book scenes co-directed by Gerald Freedman; produced by Gladys Nederlander and Tom Abbott and Lee Becker Theodore assisted the choreography reproduction.[30] The original scenic, lighting, and costume designs were used. It starred Ken Marshall as Tony, Hector Jamie Mercado as Bernardo, Josie de Guzman as Maria, and Debbie Allen as Anita. Both de Guzman and Allen received Tony Award nominations as Best Featured Actress in a Musical, and the musical was nominated as Best Reproduction (Play or Musical). Allen won the Drama Desk Award as Outstanding Featured Actress in a Musical. Other notable cast members in the revival included Brent Barrett as Diesel, Harolyn Blackwell as Francisca, Stephen Bogardus as Mouth Piece, Reed Jones as Big Deal, Mark Morales as Chino, and Sammy Smith as Doc.

Several dances from West Side Story were included in the Tony Award-winning 1989 Broadway production, Jerome Robbins' Broadway.

2009 Broadway revival

In 2007, Arthur Laurents stated, "I've come up with a way of doing [West Side Story] that will make it absolutely contemporary without changing a word or a note."[31] He directed a pre-Broadway production of West Side Story at the National Theatre in Washington, D.C. that ran from December 15, 2008 through January 17, 2009. The Broadway revival began previews at the Palace Theatre on February 23, 2009 and opened on March 19, 2009.[32][33] The production wove Spanish lyrics and dialogue into the English libretto. The translations are by Tony Award winner Lin-Manuel Miranda. Laurents stated, "The musical theatre and cultural conventions of 1957 made it next to impossible for the characters to have authenticity. Every member of both gangs was always a potential killer even then. Now they actually will be. Only Tony and Maria try to live in a different world".[34][35][36] In August 2009, some of the lyrics for "A Boy Like That" ("Un Hombre Asi") and "I Feel Pretty" ("Me Siento Hermosa"), which were previously sung in Spanish in the revival, were changed back to the original English.[37] However, the Spanish lyrics sung by the Sharks in the "Tonight" (Quintet) remained in Spanish.

The cast featured Matt Cavenaugh as Tony, Josefina Scaglione as Maria and Karen Olivo as Anita.[38] Olivo won the Tony Award for Best Featured Actress, while Scaglione was nominated for the award for Leading Actress.[39][40] The cast recording won the Grammy Award for Best Musical Show Album.[41] In July 2010, the producers reduced the size of the orchestra, replacing five musicians with an off-stage synthesizer.[42] The production closed on January 2, 2011 after 748 performances and 27 previews.[43] The revival sold 1,074,462 tickets on Broadway over the course of nearly two years.[44]

Other productions

The New York City Center Light Opera Company production opened on April 8, 1964 at the New York City Center and closed May 3, 1964 after a limited engagement of 31 performances. Tony was Don McKay, Maria was Julia Migenes and Anita was played by Luba Lisa. It was staged by Gerald Freedman based on Robbins' original concept, and the choreography was re-mounted by Tom Abbott.

The Musical Theater of Lincoln Center and Richard Rodgers production opened at the New York State Theater, Lincoln Center, on June 24, 1968 and closed on September 7, 1968 after 89 performances. Direction and choreography were reproduced by Lee Theodore, and scenery was by Oliver Smith. Tony was Kurt Peterson and Maria was Victoria Mallory.

National Tours

A 1959 national tour launched on July 1, 1959. The show hit Denver, Los Angeles, San Francisco, Chicago, Detroit, Cincinnati, Cleveland, Baltimore, Philadelphia, and Boston. This tour transferred back on Broadway Apr 27, 1960 – Dec 10, 1960 at the Winter Garden Theater in New York City.

A 1987 U.S. tour starred Jack Wagner as Tony, with Valarie Pettiford as Anita and was directed by Alan Johnson.[45] A bus and truck (non-Equity) tour was produced in 1998 by City Vision Theatricals. A national tour, directed by Alan Johnson, was produced in 2002.[46]

A national tour of the 2009 Broadway revival began in October 2010 at the Fisher Theatre in Detroit, Michigan.[47] The cast features Kyle Harris as Tony and Ali Ewoldt as Maria.[48] After a very successful year, the tour was sent out for another year.[49][50] A Non-equity tour version of the 2009 Revival, presented by Troika Entertainment, is planned for fall 2012.[51]

Regional productions

Several regional opera companies have produced West Side Story. San Diego Civic Light Opera (1983), Pittsburgh Civic Light Opera (1965, 1967, 1974, 1984, 1990, 1999, 2008),[52] and Banff Musical Theatre (1984) were among the first smaller regional companies to produce it. Michigan Opera Theatre was the first major American Opera Company to produce West Side Story in late 1985.

In 1986 Starlight Theatre of Kansas City in Kansas City, MO presented a production and in 1989 North Shore Music Theatre in Beverly, MA had a very successful production. Both of these productions were directed by Jack Allison and choreographed by Thom Warren

International productions

In 1961, a tour of Israel, Africa and the Near East was mounted. The Japanese Takarazuka Revue has also performed the show twice. It was produced by the Moon Troupe in 1998 and again in 1999 by the Star Troupe. A Hong Kong production was produced in 2000 with Cantonese lyrics, featuring Hong Kong rock star Paul Wong as Tony. It was staged at the outdoor plaza of Hong Kong Cultural Center.

In 1977, "Amor Sin Barreras" was produced in Mexico City by Alfonso Rosas Prigo, & Ruben Boido, Direction by Ruben Boido, presented at the Hidalgo Theater. Gualberto Castro played the part of Tony; Maria Medina was Maria, other cast members were Luis Torner, Lupita Sandoval, Edgar Flores, Macaria, Ema Pulido, and Julieta Bracho.

From 1982–1984 a tour of South America, Israel and Europe was mounted with talent from New York. Included in the cast were Thom Warren, Richard Renzaneth, John Charles Kelly, Pamela Khoury, Michael McCord,and RJ Peters. The Director/Choreographers for that production were Jay Norman and Lee Theodore, veterans of the Original Broadway Cast.

A UK national tour started in 1997 and starred David Habbin as Tony, Katie Knight Adams as Maria and Anna-Jane Casey as Anita. The production was very well received and transferred to London's West End opening at the Prince Edward Theatre in October 1998, transferring to the Prince of Wales Theatre where it closed in January 2000. The production subsequently toured the UK for a second time.[53]

The Austrian Bregenz Festival presented West Side Story in a German translation by Marcel Prawy in 2003 and 2004, directed by the Francesca Zambello, followed by a German tour.[54] A French language adaptation, translated by Philippe Gobeille, opened in Montreal, Quebec in March 2008.[55] A Philippine version premiered on September 5, 2008 at the Meralco Theatre. It featured Christian Bautista as Tony, Karylle and Joanna Ampil as Maria.[56] In 2008, an adaptation played in Portugal, directed by Filipe La Féria, with the name West Side Story – Amor Sem Barreiras, in the Politeama Theater, in Lisbon, with Ricardo Soler and Rui Andrade playing the character Tony and Bárbara Barradas and Cátia Tavares playing Maria. Anita is portrayed by Lúcia Moniz and Anabela.

In 2007, the Fulton Opera House in Lancaster, Pennsylvania and 5th Avenue Theatre in Seattle, Washington were the only professional theaters in the United States to be granted the production rights to West Side Story on the 50th anniversary of its Broadway opening. To mark the occasion, the Fulton joined with the Lancaster Symphony Orchestra for the first time to supply the musical score under the direction of Maestro Stephen Gunzenhauser. The production, during the Fulton's 155th season, ran from September 6, 2007 to September 30, 2007.[57]

An international tour (2005–2010), directed and choreographed by Joey McKneely and produced by BB Promotion played in Tokyo, Paris, Austria, Switzerland, Germany, Singapore, São Paulo, France, Taiwan, China, Italy, Rotterdam and Madrid.[58][59]

Canada's Stratford Shakespeare Festival performed West Side Story in 1999, starring Tyley Ross as Tony and Ma-Anne Dionisio as Maria, and again in 2009,[60] with Chilina Kennedy as Maria and Paul Nolan as Tony. Gary Griffin directed.

In June 2011, a Lima production was produced by "Preludio Asociación Cultural" with Marco Zunino as Tony, Rossana Fernández-Maldonado as Maria, Jesús Neyra as Bernardo, Tati Alcántara as Anita and Joaquín de Orbegoso as Riff.[61]

In December 2011, an Indonesia production was produced by Nino Theatre with Manda Alaysia as Maria, Bimo Reisnanda as Bernardo, Zara Fathy as Anita, Ton Dorino as Riff.

In May 2012, a Belarusian production directed by Anastasia Grinenko (Belarus), with choreography by Paul Emerson (USA) and Dmitry Yakubovich (Belarus) opened at the Belarus State Musical Theatre.

Critical reaction

The creators' innovations in dance, music and theatrical style resulted in strong reactions from the critics. Walter Kerr wrote in the New York Herald Tribune on September 27, 1957:[62]

The radioactive fallout from West Side Story must still be descending on Broadway this morning. Director, choreographer, and idea-man Jerome Robbins has put together, and then blasted apart, the most savage, restless, electrifying dance patterns we've been exposed to in a dozen seasons .... the show rides with a catastrophic roar over the spider-web fire-escapes, the shadowed trestles, and the plain dirt battlegrounds of a big city feud ... there is fresh excitement in the next debacle, and the next. When a gang leader advises his cohorts to play it "Cool", the intolerable tension between an effort at control and the instinctive drives of these potential killers is stingingly graphic. When the knives come out, and bodies begin to fly wildly through space under buttermilk clouds, the sheer visual excitement is breathtaking .... Mr. Bernstein has permitted himself a few moments of graceful, lingering melody: in a yearning "Maria", in the hushed falling line of "Tonight", in the wistful declaration of "I Have a Love". But for the most part he has served the needs of the onstage threshing machine ... When hero Larry Kert is stomping out the visionary insistence of "Something's Coming" both music and tumultuous story are given their due. Otherwise it's the danced narrative that takes urgent precedence ...

The other reviews generally joined in speculation about how the new work would influence the course of musical theatre. Typical was John Chapman's review in the New York Daily News on September 27, 1957, headed: "West Side Story a Splendid and Super-Modern Musical Drama".

The American theatre took a venturesome forward step when the firm of Griffith & Prince presented West Side Story at the Winter Garden last evening. This is a bold new kind of musical theatre – a juke-box Manhattan opera. It is, to me, extraordinarily exciting .... the manner of telling the story is a provocative and artful blend of music, dance and plot – and the music and the dancing are superb. In [the score], there is the drive, the bounce, the restlessness and the sweetness of our town. It takes up the American musical idiom where it was left when George Gershwin died. It is fascinatingly tricky and melodically beguiling, and it marks the progression of an admirable composer ...

Time magazine found the dance and gang warfare more compelling than the love story and noted that the show's "putting choreography foremost, may prove a milestone in musical-drama history ..."[63][64]

While critics speculated about the comic-tragic darkness of the musical, audiences were captivated. The story appealed to society's undercurrent of rebellion from authority that surfaced in 1950s films like Rebel without a Cause. West Side Story took this one step further by combining the classic and the hip. Robbins' energetic choreography and Bernstein's grand score accentuated the satiric, hard-edged lyrics of Sondheim, and Laurents' capture of the angry voice of urban youth. The play was criticized for glamorizing gangs, and its portrayal of Puerto Ricans and lack of authentic Latin casting were weaknesses. Yet, the song "America" shows the triumph of the spirit over the obstacles often faced by immigrants. The musical also made points in its description of troubled youth and the devastating effects of poverty and racism. Juvenile delinquency is seen as an ailment of society: "No one wants a fella with a social disease!" One writer summed up the reasons for the show's popularity in these terms: "On the cusp of the 1960s, American society, still recovering from the enormous upheaval of World War II, was seeking stability and control."



The score for West Side Story was orchestrated by Sid Ramin and Irwin Kostal following detailed instructions from Bernstein, who then wrote revisions on their manuscript (the original, heavily annotated by Ramin, Kostal and Bernstein himself is in the Rare Books and Manuscripts Library at Columbia University).[65] Ramin, Kostal, and Bernstein are billed as orchestrators for the show.

The licensed orchestration is as follows:[66]

  • 5 Woodwinds
Reed I (Alto Saxophone/Bass Clarinet/Clarinet/Flute/Piccolo)
Reed II (Bb Clarinet/Bass Clarinet/Eb Clarinet)
Reed III (Bb Clarinet/Baritone Saxophone/Bass Clarinet/English Horn/Flute/Oboe/Piccolo/Tenor Saxophone)
Reed IV (Bass Clarinet/Bass Saxophone/Clarinet/Flute/Piccolo/Soprano Sax)
Reed V (Bassoon)
  • 2 Horns in F
  • 3 Trumpets in Bb (2nd doubling Trumpet in D)
  • 2 Trombones
  • 5 Percussion
Timpani (1 player)
Drums (1 player – Trap Set)
Percussion (3 players – Vibraphone, 4 Pitched Drums, Xylophone, 3 Bongos, 3 Cowbells, Conga, Timbales, Snare Drum, Police Whistle, Gourd, 2 Suspended Cymbals, Castanets, Maracas, Finger Cymbals, Tambourines, Small Maracas, Glockenspiel, Woodblock, Claves, Triangle, Temple Blocks, Chines, Tam-tam, Ratchet, Slide Whistle)
  • 1 Keyboard (Piano/Celesta)
  • 1 Guitar (Electric/Spanish/Mandolin)
  • 7 Violins
  • 4 Celli
  • 1 Bass

Symphonic Dances from West Side Story

In 1961, Bernstein prepared a suite of orchestral music from the show, titled Symphonic Dances from West Side Story:

  1. Prologue (Allegro Moderato)
  2. "Somewhere" (Adagio)
  3. Scherzo (Vivace e Leggiero)
  4. Mambo (Meno Presto)
  5. Cha-Cha (Andantino Con Grazia)
  6. Meeting Scene (Meno Mosso)
  7. "Cool", Fugue (Allegretto)
  8. Rumble (Molto Allegro)
  9. Finale (Adagio)


Recordings of West Side Story include:


On October 18, 1961, a film adaptation of the musical was released. It received praise from critics and the public, and became the second highest grossing film of the year in the United States. The film won ten Academy Awards in its eleven nominated categories, including Best Picture, as well as a special award for Robbins. The film holds the distinction of being the musical film with the most Academy Award wins (10 wins), including Best Picture. The soundtrack album made more money than any other album before it.

References in popular culture

In addition to Bernstein's own West Side Story Suite, the music has been adapted by The Buddy Rich Big Band, which arranged and recorded "West Side Story Medley" on the 1966 album Buddy Rich's Swingin' New Big Band, and The Stan Kenton Orchestra, which recorded Johnny Richards' 1961 Kenton's West Side Story, an album of jazz orchestrations based on the Bernstein scores. It won the 1962 Grammy Award for Best Jazz Recording by a Large Group.

Popular artists have recorded songs from the musical:

  • "America" has been covered by The Tijuana Brass in an upbeat version on an early album; 1960s progressive rock band, The Nice, recorded it as an instrumental protest song and Keith Emerson continued to perform it in concerts with his later groups, Emerson, Lake & Palmer and 3. The song was also sampled at the beginning of the Yes cover of Paul Simon's America and at the beginning of the Metallica song "Don't Tread on Me", from their Black Album (1991). Yes also released "Something's Coming" as a single. Led Zeppelin's Jimmy Page referenced "America" during the guitar/violin bow solo during "Dazed And Confused" live, on numerous occasions.
  • Alice Cooper incorporated the "Jet Song" into "Gutter Cat vs. The Jets" on their School's Out album. Prior to that, the band had titled an earlier LP "Easy Action', and used lines from "Jet Song" in one of its tracks.
  • Michael Jackson's life had been significantly influenced by West Side Story, and he payed tributes to it in his music videos of "Beat It" (1983) and "Bad" (1987).[69] According to a West Side Story cast member David Winters, who met and befriended Jackson while choreographing the 1971 Diana Ross TV Special "Diana!", Jackson watched West Side Story almost every week and it was his favorite film.[70][71][72]
  • Tom Waits opened his 1978 album Blue Valentine with "Somewhere"; and 19 years later (1997), British singing group Pet Shop Boys recorded their version of the song, using elements of "I Feel Pretty". During their 1997 series of concerts at the Savoy Theatre, London, they used an extended version of "Somewhere" that started with "One Hand, One Heart". From 1988 to 1991, Devo performed a medley of their songs Disco Dancer and Shout based around a suite featuring a cover of "Somewhere". A recording appears on the live 1989 album Now It Can Be Told: DEVO at the Palace and a longer extended demo version appears on the compilation Recombo DNA which also incorporates the song "Social Fools" and the old Devo characters of the Chinaman and Booji Boy.
  • David Winters, who starred in both the original Broadway production and the motion picture was greatly influenced by West Side Story and had gone on to choreograph, direct and produce hundreds of projects with such stars as Barbra Streisand and Elvis Presley in music and film. The influence that West Side Story had on him can be seen in his choreography and in many of his future projects. Also through a West Side Story production, in Los Angeles, circa 1962, Winters met and befriended Teri Garr and Antonia Basilotta (better known as Toni Basil), both of whom would figure prominently in Winters' life in the future as they would become two of his best dancers when he became a choreographer.[74][75][76]
  • In 1995, punk rock band Schlong released "Punk Side Story" on Hopeless Records. The album was a re-recording of the original soundtrack done in various punk styles, including hardcore, street punk, and third wave ska.
  • The song "Tonight, Tonight" was used in a 1998 Mountain Dew commercial.
  • In an episode of That 70's Show, Donna and Jackie reference West Side Story, and Fez's daydream sequence resembles a scene from it.
  • Pixar animator Aaron Hartline used the first meeting between Tony and Maria as inspiration for the moment when Ken meets Barbie in Toy Story 3.[78]
  • Television series Glee features a mash-up of "I Feel Pretty" and TLC's "Unpretty", performed by Dianna Agron and Lea Michele (as their characters Quinn Fabray and Rachel Berry), in episode 18 of season two, "Born This Way".[79] The show's third season features a school production of West Side Story, with multiple songs from the production, performed by several cast members in episode 2 "I Am Unicorn", episode 3 "Asian F" and episode 5 "The First Time".[80][81]
  • The 50th Anniversary of West Side Story celebration was held at the 2011 Ventura Film Festival and included lifetime achievement awards for Academy Award Winner/Golden Globe Winner George Chakiris and Golden Globe Winner/Academy Award Nominee Russ Tamblyn as well as honoring a number of other cast members such as Robert Banas, Maria Henly, and Gina Trikinos.
  • In the Friends sitcom episode "The One With Chandler's Dad" (season 7 episode 22) Chandler's dad briefly sings the chorus of "I Feel Pretty" during his cross-dressing burlesque show. The audience shouts the word "gay!" in unison.
  • In the HBO show The Newsroom (season 1 episode 4), main character Will McAvoy compares the rivalry between day time and prime time news shows as being like "Jets and the Sharks".
  • A recording of "I Feel Pretty" has been featured in North American commercials for Pampers diapers since 2012 as well as a commercial for Aquafina.
  • The Littlest Pet Shop episode "Dumb Dumbwaiter" has a musical number based on "Jet Song".
  • In the 2013 movie "Teen Beach Movie", two teens are trapped inside a movie called Wet Side Story, in which a group of surfers and a group of bikers are competing in a turf war.

Awards and nominations

Original Broadway production

Year Award Ceremony Category Nominee Result
1958 Theatre World Award Carol Lawrence Won
Tony Award Best Musical Nominated
Best Performance by a Featured Actress in a Musical Carol Lawrence Nominated
Best Choreography Jerome Robbins Won
Best Scenic Design Oliver Smith Won
Best Costume Design Irene Sharaff Nominated
Best Conductor and Musical Director Max Goberman Nominated

1980 Broadway revival

Year Award Ceremony Category Nominee Result
1980 Drama Desk Award Outstanding Featured Actress in a Musical Debbie Allen Won
Tony Award Best Revival of a Musical Nominated
Best Performance by a Featured Actress in a Musical Josie de Guzman Nominated
Debbie Allen Nominated

2008 West End revival

Year Award Ceremony Category Nominee Result
2009 Laurence Olivier Award Best Musical Revival Nominated
Best Actress in a Musical Sofia Escobar Nominated

2009 Broadway revival

Year Award Ceremony Category Nominee Result
2009 Tony Award Best Revival of a Musical Nominated
Best Performance by a Leading Actress in a Musical Josefina Scaglione Nominated
Best Performance by a Featured Actress in a Musical Karen Olivo Won
Best Lighting Design Howell Binkley Nominated
Drama Desk Award Outstanding Revival of a Musical Nominated
Outstanding Featured Actress in a Musical Karen Olivo Nominated
Grammy Award Best Musical Show Album Won
Theatre World Award Josefina Scaglione Won


Further reading

  • Acevedo-Munoz Ernesto R. "West Side Story" as Cinema: The Making and Impact of an American Masterpiece (University Press of Kansas; 2013) 232 pages
  • Bauch, Marc A. ISBN 978-3-8288-3209-1 [A unique, paratextual comparison between Romeo and Juliet and West Side Story]
  • Bauch, Marc (2001) Themes and Topics of the American Musical after World War II Tectum Verlag, Marburg, Germany, described here
  • Bauch, Marc (2003) The American Musical Tectum Verlag, Marburg, Germany, described here
  • Laurents, Arthur (2009) Mainly on directing : Gypsy, West Side Story, and other musicals Alfred A. Knopf, New York, ISBN 978-0-307-27088-7
  • Simeone, Nigel (2009) Leonard Bernstein: West Side Story Ashgate, Farnham, ISBN 0-7546-6484-8
  • Vaill, A. (2006) Somewhere: The Life of Jerome Robbins Broadway Books, New York, ISBN 0-7679-0420-6
  • Wells, Elizabeth A. (2010) West Side Story: Cultural Perspectives on an American Musical Scarecrow Press, Lanham, Maryland, ISBN 978-0-8108-7666-8
  • Williams, Mary E. (editor) (2001) Readings on West Side Story Greenhaven Press, San Diego, California, ISBN 0-7377-0694-5

External links

  • Internet Broadway Database
  • website
  • at the Music Theatre International website
  • 50th Anniversary World Tour website
  • at The Stephen sondheim Reference Guide
  • Detailed Character Descriptions,
  • at
  • at Sondheim Review
  • "SONDHEIM 101: 'West Side Story'" by Leonard Jacobs from Sondheim Review, Fall 2007
  • Website on New York City 1950s youth gangs
  • (German) West Side Story, Musical

This article was sourced from Creative Commons Attribution-ShareAlike License; additional terms may apply. World Heritage Encyclopedia content is assembled from numerous content providers, Open Access Publishing, and in compliance with The Fair Access to Science and Technology Research Act (FASTR), Wikimedia Foundation, Inc., Public Library of Science, The Encyclopedia of Life, Open Book Publishers (OBP), PubMed, U.S. National Library of Medicine, National Center for Biotechnology Information, U.S. National Library of Medicine, National Institutes of Health (NIH), U.S. Department of Health & Human Services, and, which sources content from all federal, state, local, tribal, and territorial government publication portals (.gov, .mil, .edu). Funding for and content contributors is made possible from the U.S. Congress, E-Government Act of 2002.
Crowd sourced content that is contributed to World Heritage Encyclopedia is peer reviewed and edited by our editorial staff to ensure quality scholarly research articles.
By using this site, you agree to the Terms of Use and Privacy Policy. World Heritage Encyclopedia™ is a registered trademark of the World Public Library Association, a non-profit organization.

Copyright © World Library Foundation. All rights reserved. eBooks from Project Gutenberg are sponsored by the World Library Foundation,
a 501c(4) Member's Support Non-Profit Organization, and is NOT affiliated with any governmental agency or department.