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West Side Story is an American musical with a book by Arthur Laurents, music by Leonard Bernstein, and lyrics by Stephen Sondheim. The musical's plot is based on William Shakespeare's Romeo and Juliet.

Set in New Yorkmarker in the mid-1950s, the musical explores the rivalry between the Jets and the Sharks, two teenage street gangs of different ethnic and cultural backgrounds. The members of the Sharks are first-generation Americans from Puerto Rico taunted by the Jets, a white group who consider themselves the true Americans. 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 has become extremely popular; it includes "Something's Coming", "Maria", "America", "Somewhere", "Tonight", "Jet Song", "I Feel Pretty", "One Hand, One Heart", and "Cool".

The original 1957 Broadway production, directed and choreographed by Jerome Robbins and produced by Robert E. Griffith and Harold Prince, marked Stephen Sondheim's Broadway debut. It ran for 732 performances (a successful run for the time), before going on tour. The production garnered a Tony Award nomination for Best Musical in 1957, but the award went to Meredith Willson's The Music Man. It won a Tony Award in 1957 for Robbins' choreography. The show had an even longer-running London production, a number of revivals and international success, and spawned an innovative, award-winning 1961 musical film of the same name. West Side Story is produced frequently by schools, regional theaters, and occasionally by opera companies.


Genesis of the concept

In 1949, 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 Italian American Roman Catholic family and a Jewish family living on the Lower East Sidemarker of Manhattanmarker, during the EasterPassover season. The girl has survived the Holocaust and immigrated from Israel; the conflict was to be centered around anti-Semitism of the Catholic "Jets" and resentment of the Jews or "Emeralds" (a name that made its way into the script as a reference). 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.

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 wasn't impressed with the music. Sondheim didn't care for Laurents' opinion. Serenade ultimately was shelved.

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 Bowlmarker. The two met at the Beverly Hills Hotelmarker, 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 Angelesmarker, but Laurents felt he was more familiar with Puerto Ricans and Harlemmarker than he was with Mexican Americans and Olvera Streetmarker. 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.

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 a film 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. Meanwhile, Laurents had written a new draft of the book changing the characters' backgrounds: Anton, once an Italian American, was now of Polishmarker descent, and the formerly Jewish Maria had become a Puerto Rican.

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 wasn't: "cut the frabba-jabba", for example. 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 "América" 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.marker tryout when Laurents convinced the others it was helping tip the balance of the show into typical musical comedy.

Bernstein composed West Side Story and Candide concurrently, which led to some switches of material between the two works. 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. 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 nearly was 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. 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. Every other producer already had turned down the show, deeming it too dark and depressing. Bernstein was despondent, but Sondheim convinced his friend Hal Prince, who was in Bostonmarker 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. In his memoirs, Prince recalled, "Sondheim and Bernstein sat at the piano playing through the music, and soon I was singing along with them."

Production period

Prince began cutting the budget and raising money. Robbins then announced he didn't 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, and allowed Robbins to hire Peter Gennaro as his assistant. 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:

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. 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. 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. Columbia Records initially declined to record the cast album, saying the score was too depressing and too difficult.

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.

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.


Act 1

Two teenage gangs, the Jets and the Sharks, struggle for control of the neighborhood, amidst police whistles and taunts (Prologue). They are warned by Lt. Schrank and Sgt. 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 kiss (or try to) when an enraged Bernardo pulls his sister from Tony's arms and sends her home. Riff and Bernardo agree to meet for a War Council at Doc's, a candy 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 ("Tonight"). Meanwhile, Anita and the other Shark girls discuss the differences between Puerto Rico and the United States of America ("América"). The Jets get antsy while waiting for the Sharks inside Doc's Candy Store. They let out all of their aggression that they might exhibit in a large, angry dance ("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 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.

Tony meets Maria at the bridal shop the next day, where they dream of their wedding ("One Hand, One Heart"). She asks Tony to stop the fight, which he agrees to do. Tony, Maria, Anita, Bernardo (and the Sharks), and Riff (and the Jets) all anticipate the events to come that night ("Tonight Quintet"). 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 knife fight ("The Rumble"). Tony warns 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 leaving Riff vulnerable. Bernardo stabs Riff. Tony then 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

In her bedroom, Maria has not heard the news and daydreams happily about seeing Tony with her friends—Rosalia, Consuelo, Teresita and Francisca ("I Feel Pretty"). Just then, Chino brings the news that Tony has killed Bernardo. Maria flees to her bedroom, praying that Chino is mistaken. Tony arrives to see Maria, and in a fit of rage she throws her fists at him until he finally calms her down and they plan to run away together; as the walls of Maria's bedroom disappear, they find themselves in a dreamlike world of peace ("Somewhere").

The Jets try their hardest to get their minds off the death of Riff by poking fun at all of the adults who try to make sense of what they do, ("Gee, Officer Krupke"). Anybodys brings news that she overheard Chino planning to hunt down Tony and kill him with a gun. The Jets then spread out to find Tony and protect him from Chino.

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. Anita sees that Tony has been with Maria, and asks in horror how she can love the man who killed her brother ("A Boy Like That"). Maria responds passionately with her own song ("I Have a Love"), though, and Anita understands 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, and Anita reluctantly agrees to go to Doc's to tell Tony to wait. At the store, the Jets taunt Anita with racist innuendo and insults. The taunts turn into physical abuse, and Anita is nearly raped before a horrified Doc arrives to stop the boys. In her anger, Anita, who is in tears, tells the Jets that Bernardo was right about them, and then claims that Chino has killed Maria in jealousy.

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 die 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 hatred is what killed Tony and the others, and now she can kill, because now she hates, too. However, she is unable to bring herself to fire the gun and collapses in her grief, ending the cycle of violence. Gradually, all the members of both gangs assemble on either side of Tony's body, suggesting that the feud is over. The Jets and Sharks form a procession, and together they carry Tony away. Lt. Schrank and Officer Krupke arrest Chino. Maria sits on the ground, looking out, realizing her true love is gone.


The Jets
  • Tony, The co-founder of the Jets
  • Riff, The leader of the Jets
  • Action, easily angered and excited
  • Diesel, toughest of the gang, tall and muscular
  • Snowboy, possibly the most reliable member of the Jets
  • A-Rab, the weary one of the gang
  • Baby John, the youngest of the Jets, A-Rab's best friend, very sensitive
  • Big Deal, hangs around with Diesel a lot
  • Ice, cool, calm, collected (film version only)
  • Gee-Tar
  • Tiger
  • Mouth Piece

Their Girls
  • Graziella, Riff's girl
  • Velma, Diesel's girl
  • Anybodys (a tomboy who wishes to become a Jet)
  • Minnie, Baby John's girl
  • Clarice, A-Rab's girl
  • Pauline, Big Deal's girl

The Sharks
  • Bernardo, The leader of the Sharks
  • Chino, young and shy, kills Tony
  • Pepe, Bernardo's right hand man and Consuelo's Boyfriend
  • Indio
  • Luis
  • Anxious
  • Toro
  • Nibbles
  • Moose
  • Juano

Their Girls
  • Maria, Bernardo's sister, falls in love with Tony
  • Anita, Bernardo's girl
  • Consuelo, Shark girl with dyed blonde hair, Pepe's girl
  • Rosalia, who wants to return to Puerto Rico
  • Teresita
  • Estella
  • Margurita
  • Francisca

The Adults
  • Officer Krupke, a neighborhood police officer
  • Doc, owner of the Drug Store
  • Lt. Schrank, the precinct's police Lieutenant
  • Glad Hand, chaperone at the dance


Act 1
  • Overture (Instrumental)
  • "Prologue" (Instrumental) – Jets and Sharks
  • "Jet Song" – Riff, Action, Baby John, A-rab, Big Deal and Jets
  • "Something's Coming" – Tony
  • "Dance At The Gym" (Instrumental) – Jets and Sharks
  • "Maria" – Tony
  • "Tonight" – Tony and Maria
  • "America" – Anita, Rosalia, Shark Girls, and Sharks
  • "Cool" – Riff and Jets
  • "One Hand, One Heart" – Tony and Maria
  • "Tonight Quintet and Chorus" – Anita, Tony, Maria, Jets and Sharks
  • "The Rumble" (Dance) – Jets and Sharks

Act 2
  • "I Feel Pretty" ("Me Siento Hermosa" in the 2009 revival) – Maria, Consuelo, Rosalia, Teresita, Francisca and Shark Girls.
  • "Somewhere" (Song and Dance) – Company and "Dream Consuelo" (in the 2009 revival, "Kiddo", Tony, Maria, and Company)
  • "Gee, Officer Krupke" – Action, A-rab, Diesel, Baby John and the Jets
  • "A Boy Like That" ("Un Hombre Así" in the 2009 revival) / "I Have A Love" – Anita and Maria
  • "Taunting Scene" (Instrumental) – Anita and Jets
  • "Finale" – Tony and Maria

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.
  • 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 dance 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 set up a fake wedding in a bridal shop.
  • In the big fight scene, Bernardo kills Riff like Tybalt kills Mercutio; Tony avenges Riff's death by killing Bernardo, just as Romeo kills Tybalt.
  • Both stories feature Maria/Juliet's false death. Anita tells the Jets that Chino has killed Maria. Juliet fakes her death. Tony seeks out Chino in misery, wishing to die also. Romeo wishes to visit Juliet's grave to take poison and die with her.
  • The Capulet nurse is played around with and disgraced by Montague men, while Anita is taunted and attacked by the Jets.


Original Broadway

After tryouts in Washington, D.C.marker and Philadelphiamarker beginning in August 1957, the original Broadway production opened at the Winter Garden Theatremarker 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 and Chita Rivera as Anita. 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 Irene Sharaff for Best Costume Design. Carol Lawrence received the 1958 Theatre World Award. The production ran for 732 performances at the Winter Garden Theatremarker 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, Baby John: David Winters, Big Deal: Martin Charnin, Gee-Tar: Tommy Abbott; 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. Tucker Smith would join the original production several months after its debut as a replacement for the role of Big Deal.

West End

The 1958 European premiere at the Manchester Opera Housemarker transferred to Londonmarker where it opened at Her Majesty's Theatremarker in London's West Endmarker on Friday 12 December 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 as Anita. 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.


Broadway revivals

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, and Maria was Julia Migenes. 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 Centermarker and Richard Rodgers production opened at the New York State Theatermarker, 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.

A Broadway revival opened at the Minskoff Theatremarker on February 14, 1980 and closed on November 30, 1980, after 333 performances. It was directed and choreographed by Robbins with the assistance of Tom Abbott and Lee Becker Theodore and scenery was by Oliver Smith. It starred Ken Marshall as Tony, 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 include: Brent Barrett as Diesel, Harolyn Blackwell as Francisca, Stephen Bogardus as Mouth Piece, Reed Jones as Big Deal, and Sammy Smith as Doc.

In 2007, Arthur Laurents expressed disappointment in the 1980 revival, stating "I've come up with a way of doing it that will make it absolutely contemporary without changing a word or a note." He directed a revival at the National Theatremarker in Washington, D.C.marker from December 15, 2008 through January 17, 2009. It began previews on Broadway at the Palace Theatre on February 23, 2009 and opened officially on March 19, 2009. The production "will introduce the unprecedented element of selectively weaving Spanish throughout both the book and songs". The translations to the lyrics are being done by Lin-Manuel Miranda, who wrote In the Heights. Also, Laurents stated, "This show will be radically different from any other production of West Side Story ever done. 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 ..." On August 20, 2009 the Spanish lyrics for "A Boy Like That" ("Un Hombre Asi") and "I Feel Pretty" ("Siento Hermosa") were changed to English. The cast features Matt Cavenaugh as Tony, Josefina Scaglione as Maria, Karen Olivo as Anita, Cody Green as Riff and George Akram as Bernardo. Olivo won the Tony Award for Best Performance by a Featured Actress in a Musical on June 7, 2009 while Scaglione was nominated for the Tony Award for Best Performance by a Leading Actress in a Musical.

US national tours

A 1987 U.S. tour starred Jack Wagner as Tony. Several dances from West Side Story were presented as the featured performances in the Tony Award-winning 1989 Broadway production, Jerome Robbins' Broadway.

A U.S. bus and truck (non-Equity) tour was produced in 1998 by City Vision Theatricals.

A U.S. national tour, directed by Alan Johnson, was produced in 2002.

Regional productions

Several regional opera companies have produced West Side Story. San Diego Civic Light Opera (1983), Civic Light Opera of Pittsburgh (1984), 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.

International productions

In 1961, a tour of Israel, Africa and the Near East was mounted. The Japanese Takarazuka Revuemarker 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 Centermarker.

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 Theatremarker in October 1998, transferring to the Prince of Wales Theatremarker where it closed in January 2000. The production subsequently toured the UK for a second time.

The Austrian Bregenz Festivalmarker 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. A French language adaptation, translated by Philippe Gobeille, opened in Montrealmarker, Quebecmarker in March 2008. A Philippine version premiered on September 5, 2008 at the Meralco Theatre. It features Christian Bautista as Tony and Karylle and Joanna Ampil as Maria. 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 Lisbonmarker, 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 Housemarker in Lancaster, Pennsylvaniamarker and 5th Avenue Theatremarker in Seattle, Washingtonmarker were the only professional theaters in the United Statesmarker 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.

An international tour, directed and choroegraphed by Joey McKneely and produced by BB Promotion, has been performed for the past several years playing in Tokyo, Paris, Austria, Switzerland, Germany, Singapore, Taiwan, China, Italy, Rotterdam and Madrid. This production has starred such performers as Kirsten Rossi/Elisa Cordova/Sofia Escoba/Ali Ewoldt as Maria, Ryan Silverman/Scott Sussman as Tony, Lana Gordon/Oneika Phillips as Anita, Leo Ash Evens/Spencer Howard/Brett Leigh (also playing Action)/Denton Tarver as Riff and Emmanuel de Jesús Silva/Marco Santiago/Oscar as Bernardo, Lindsay Dunn, Tanari Vasquez, Adam Lendormon, Marla Mcreynolds, Samuel Ladd, Sean Samuels, Kimberly Wolff (Graziella), Sean Patrick Doyle, Jeremy Dumont, Sarah Dobbs (anybody's) have also rounded out the case.


See main article: West Side Story

The 1961 film version was directed by Robert Wise and Robbins and starred Natalie Wood, Richard Beymer, Rita Moreno, George Chakiris and Russ Tamblyn. It won ten Academy Awards out of eleven nominations.

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:

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, was headed: "West Side Story a Splendid and Super-Modern Musical Drama".

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 ..."

Musical analysis


The score for West Side Story was orchestrated by Bernstein himself, with assistance from Sid Ramin and Irwin Kostal. The instrumentation at first seems unusually large, but typical for Broadway, many of the players are called upon to handle multiple instruments, or 'double'. The score calls for a total of five 'reed' players covering: three piccolos, three flutes, oboe, English horn, E-flat clarinet, four B-flat clarinets, three bass clarinets, bassoon, and saxophones (soprano, alto, tenor, baritone, and bass). There are three independent parts for horn in F, three independent parts for trumpet in B-flat (2nd doubling trumpet in D) and two trombone parts. One or more percussionists are asked to cover: traps, timpani, vibraphone, four pitched drums, güiro, xylophone, three bongos, conga, timbales, snare drum, police whistle, gourd, two suspended cymbals, castanets, maracas, finger cymbals, tambourine, small maracas, glockenspiel, wood block, claves, triangle, temple blocks, chimes, tam-tam, ratchet, and slide whistle. In addition, there are parts for celesta, piano, electric guitar, Spanish guitar, and mandolin, while the (bowed) string section consists of seven violins (divisi), four cellos (divisi), and double bass.

Symphonic Dances

Bernstein later prepared a suite of orchestral music from the show, titled Symphonic Dances from West Side Story. Although the suite is most frequently performed in its entirety, it is occasionally abbreviated. The full sequence is:
  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)

Musical ideas

A common musical device in West Side Story is the tritone (also known as the augmented fourth, or diminished fifth). It is featured throughout the musical, such as the repeated word, Maria, in the song "Maria", and in the overture and all of the fight music ("The Rumble"). The interval is dissonant (that is, it sounds jarring and unsettled and creates musical tension). By embracing the musical disunity created by the tritone, Bernstein is providing a musical representation of the opposing gangs in West Side Story.


Recordings of West Side Story include:

References in popular culture

The popularity of West Side Story is evidenced by the number and variety of references to it in popular culture, including adaptations, musical pastiches and references in other media. 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. For instance, Selena, the Tejano singer, recorded "A Boy Like That" in 1995, seven days before her death. In 1996, that song was released as the first single from the album The Songs of West Side Story. This album also included such diverse artists as Little Richard ("I Feel Pretty"), Trisha Yearwood ("I Have a Love") and Salt-n-Pepa, Def Jef, Lisa Lopes, the Jerky Boys, and Paul Rodriguez all collaborating on "Gee, Officer Krupke". "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. Tom Waits opened his 1978 album Blue Valentine with "Somewhere"; and 19 years later (1997), British singing group The Pet Shop Boys recorded their version of the song, using elements of "I Feel Pretty". During their 1997 series of concerts at the Savoy Theatremarker, London, they used an extended version of "Somewhere" that started with "One Hand, One Heart".

P. J. Proby, Len Barry, Pet Shop Boys and Barbra Streisand each had hit singles with versions of the song "Somewhere", while Johnny Mathis and Roger Williams did likewise with "Maria". Ferrante & Teicher scored a top ten hit with "Tonight"; Eddie Fisher also scored a chart hit with the song.

The show has inspired some surprising musical uses. For example, West Side Story has become a popular show for drum and bugle corps and marching bands. Many pastiches and parodies of the show or its music have made their way into popular media. In particular, the gang war has been spoofed frequently.

Curb Your Enthusiasm extensively referenced West Side Story in Season 7 episode "Officer Krupke."


  1. West Side Story plot and
  2. Information from a Leonard
  3. Laurents, Arthur, Original Story By. New York: Alfred A. Knopf 2000. ISBN 0-375-40055-9, pp. 329–30
  4. Interview with Bernstein in 1984, Notes on Broadway, p. 14
  5. Laurents, p. 334
  6. Laurents, pp. 336–43
  7. Laurents, pp. 346–47
  8. Information from factsheet
  9. Laurents, p. 349
  10. Laurents, pp. 350–51
  11. Some of the music Bernstein wrote for West Side Story, but that wasn't used in the production, was later integrated into the Chichester Psalms.
  12. Information from bibliography page
  13. Feature on Laurents in the New York Herald Tribune, August 4, 1957
  14. Laurents, pp. 351–52
  15. Laurents, pp. 326–28
  16. Laurents, p. 354
  17. Laurents, pp. 354–56
  18. Information from a 2002 interview of Chita Rivera, The Sondheim Review, Vol. 9, No. 3 Winter 2003
  19. Laurents, pp. 357–58
  20. Laurents, pp. 360–61
  21. Laurents, pp. 362–65
  23. listing
  24. New York Post, "On Broadway", Michael Riedel, July 27, 2007
  25. Gans, Andrew. "Laurents-Directed West Side Story Sets Broadway Preview Date",, May 23, 2008
  26. Gans, Andrew and Jones, Kenneth. "West Side Story Revival, Directed by Laurents, Sets Broadway Opening Date",, August 8, 2008
  27. Jones, Kenneth. "West Side Story, This Time With Bilingual Approach, Will Return to Broadway in February 2009",, July 16, 2008
  28. Gans, Andrew and Jones, Kenneth. "Broadway-Bound West Side Story Revival Launches at DC's National Dec. 15",, December 15, 2008
  29. Marks, Peter. "The Director's Route Back To 'West Side' ", Washington Post, December 14, 2008
  30. Gans, Andrew. "A Song Like That: Collaborators Reconsider Spanish Lyrics in West Side Story",, August 25, 2009
  31. Gans, Andrew. "Cavenaugh, Scaglione, Olivo, Green and Akram to Lead Cast of West Side Story Revival",, October 28, 2008
  32. "Billy Elliot, Norman Conquests, Hair, God of Carnage Are Tony Award Winners",, June 8, 2009
  33. Gans, Andrew and Jones, Kenneth. "Nominations for 2009 Tony Awards Announced; Billy Elliot Earns 15 Nominations",, May 5, 2009
  34. Information from the news page
  35. Information from
  36. albemarle-london Listing for London production
  37. Information from news
  38. Information about the translation (in French only)
  39. Thefilipinoweb, July 2, 2008, accessed August 17, 2008
  40. Fulton Theatre listing, accessed August 17, 2008
  41. Lash, Larry. "West Side Story", Variety, November 12, 2007, accessed August 17, 2008
  42. Loveridge, Lizzie. "West Side Story 50th Anniversary Production", Curtain Up, August 1, 2008, accessed August 17, 2008
  43. New York Herald Tribune, September 27, 1957
  44. Time Magazine review from October 7, 1957
  45. 2002 Article in St. James Encyclopedia of Pop Culture
  46. Album reviews, Manchester Evening News, 2007-08-06, accessed 2007-08-13
  47. Joel Whitburn, Top Pop Singles 1955-1999 (Menomonee Falls, WI: Record Research, 2000).

Further reading

  • Vaill, A, Somewhere: The Life of Jerome Robbins, New York: Broadway Books, 2006
  • Bauch, Marc. The American Musical. Marburg, Germany: Tectum Verlag, 2003. ISBN 382888458X described here
  • Bauch, Marc. Themes and Topics of the American Musical after World War II. Marburg, Germany: Tectum Verlag, 2001. ISBN 3828811418 described here

External links

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