Music: Leonard Bernstein
Lyrics: Stephen Sondheim
Book: Arthur Laurents
When Jerome Robbins, Leonard Bernstein and Arthur Laurents originally conceived the idea of writing a musical version of William Shakespeare's Romeo and Juliet, they planned to call it East Side Story and center it around a star-crossed romance between Jewish boy and an Italian Catholic girl. Because of other commitments, however, they were forced to shelve the project for six years, and by the time they returned to it, they decided that this idea had lost its social relevancy. Instead, they would tell the story of a native-born Polish boy and a Puerto Rican girl newly arrived in America--and they would set it against the backdrop of clashing street gangs on the city's West side. At this point, Bernstein decided against writing his own lyrics and offered the job to a virtually unknown lyricist named Stephen Sondheim.
West Side Story remains true to its Shakespearean model. Things look good for the young lovers in the beginning, but when Tony--much like Romeo--accidentally kills his lover's brother while trying to break up a rumble, violence erupts. The musical received rave reviews for its unflinching portrayal of gang life.
West Side Story opened at the Winter Garden Theatre on September 26, 1957 and ran for 732 performances before going on tour. The 1961 film version featured Richard Beymer, Natalie Wood, George Chakiris and Rita Moreno.