West Side Story | Biography & History

March 12, 2019

Telling the story of the star crossed lovers, West Side Story is a musical written by Arthur Laurents and directed by Jerome Robbins. It first premiered in 1957 in Washington DC, USA followed by 732 successful performances to sell out crowds. The show had an even longer-running production in London garnering international success followed by a number of revivals including award-winning musical film of the same name in 1961. Now it has been revived in this century under the direction and choreography of Joey McKneely. West Side Story is currently giving performances in number of cities in the USA and is a hit. Over a period of time, the musical has been frequently produced by regional theatres, schools and, a few times, by opera companies. Grab your West Side Story tickets and watch what makes it so popular, live.


Based somewhat on the Shakespearian model of Romeo and Juliet, West Side Story is a modern adaptation. Set against the backdrop of clashing street gangs on New York’s West side, the musical takes the audiences on an emotional rollercoaster ride as these two lovers the Puerto Rican (newly arrived in America) Maria and all-American boy, Tony, against the wishes of friends and family, fall in love defying cultural constraints. There are two main gangs at war with each other namely the Sharks (Puerto Rican) and the Jets (White). In the beginning, things look good for the young lovers who meet each other at the school dance and fall in love. They dance, sing and are happy in spite of knowing that they can’t be together because of the gang’s war.

As violence between the two communities gathers intensity, the events also take a turn for the worst. Jet leader Riff who is also Tony’s best friend is killed by shark’s leader Bernardo who is Maria’s brother as well. In the heat of the moment and without realizing who Bernard is, Tony kills him. When he realizes his mistake, he laments and asks Maria for forgiveness which she readily gives. They both decide to leave the city and put the hatred and violence behind them. The series of misunderstandings start after they decide to meet at a point from where to take the bus. The emotions get intense here and the sheer raw physicality of it all makes ones spine tingle.

Tony Award winner Arthur Laurents the author of this show – has authored twenty four or more plays and movies over the span of a seven decade career. Among the many movies are the two popular movies namely Rope for Alfred Hitchcock in 1948 and The Way We Were in 1973 with Robert Redford and Barbra Streisand. The 1983 smash-hit Broadway debut of La Cage aux Folles was directed by him winning six Tony awards. In 1999 Arthur started collaboration with David Saint (George Street Playhouse), which resulted in the production of Laurents’ six or so plays. He started working on a new, bilingual musical, West Side Story after directing Patti LuPone on Broadway. The 1961 West Side Story was the film version featuring some of the best names in the then industry. These included Natalie Wood, Richard Beymer, George Chakiris & Rita Moreno.

The music of the play was created by multiple Tony and Grammy Award winner Leonard Bernstein whereas the lyrics were written by then a very young new comer on the Broadway, Stephen Sondheim. With such classics as ’Something’s Coming’, ’America’, ’Tonight’, ’I Feel Pretty’ & ’Somewhere’, the Bernstein and Sondheim musical score is Broadway’s finest. The collection of Latin, Jazz and classical melodies combined with the wonderful lyrics by Stephen Sondheim are the real key to West Side Story’s visceral power revealing much about the two lovers’ feelings and exciting the audience as well. Also, kudos to Donald Chan! The musical supervisor & conductor has done an extremely amazing job. The whole cast of 46 stars including Matt Cavenaugh as ’Tony’, Cody Green as ’Riff’, Karen Olivo as ’Anita’, and George Akram as ’Bernardo’ give their all in terms of emotions, acting, singing and even dancing. Broadway newcomer Josefina Scaglione playing the role of ’Maria’ is also spot-on.

The West Side Story musical got wild reviews for the unflinching and realistic portrayal of gang life of the 50s in America when it first premiered in 1957. Today in 2009, the show still entertains and excites the audience as it opened on Broadway, the first since 1980. N.Y. Journal-American hailed it by reporting that, ’there has never been a happier integration, a more sensitive blending of story, song and movement.’ The play also earned a number of Tony Award nominations in 2009 including Best Revival of a Musical, Best Lighting Design (Howell Binkley), Best Actress (Josefina Scaglione), and Best Featured Actress (Karen Olivo). West Side Story the musical is still relevant, the most innovative and heart-wrenching musical dramas which lives up to its great reputation.

After sold out seasons all over the world, including Paris, London, Berlin and Sydney, The West Side Story is returning to the US. The musical will be playing a limited three-week season in August 2017, after which it’ll start its 2018 run.

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