Friday, May 1, 2015



Date Composed:

Leonard Bernstein
All About
Stephen Sondheim
Historical event, story, and/or novel
on which this musical is based:
Author of the original story or
novel on which this musical is based:
West Side Story and
Romeo and Juliet
The lovers embracing, half-length in an oval, Romeo at the right wearing a blue coat, Juliet resting her head on his right shoulder; a curtain behind at left; after Benjamin West (Staley 217).  1775
Stipple and engraving printed in black, blue and brown.
Romeo and Juliet
How Are They Interrelated?
How Do They Differ?
West Side Story is supposed to be a modern day Romeo and Juliet. The
plots mirror each other largely but the key differences between the two
are that West Side Story is simpler than Romeo and Juliet, is a musical
while Romeo and Juliet is not, and adds an additional twist to the plot
in that there is racial tension between the Puerto Rican and the New
York gangs.

The characters of West Side Story are meant to imitate those of Romeo
and Juliet. The Jets are an allegory to the Montagues while the Sharks
symbolize the Capulets. Furthermore Tony represents Romeo and Maria
represents Juliet. The list of character match ups goes on and on: Anita
represents Juliet's Nurse, Riff represents Mercutio, Bernardo represents
Tybalt. Chino represents Juliet's suitor Paris, Doc represents the kindly
Friar Lawrence, and Officer Krupky and the detective represent Prince

As the characters have their correspondents so do the plots. Both
performances start with a petty display of tension between the respective
clans; Jets and Sharks, Montagues and Capulets that is broken up by
Officer Krupky/Prince Escalus. Soon after the opening quarrel the rivals
meet at a party/dance where the Jets/Montagues scuffle briefly with the
Sharks/Capulets. Also in the dancing scene Tony/Romeo and Maria/Juliet
meet and fall in love. They both follow shortly with a "balcony scene"
where Maria/Juliet is up in her balcony and Tony/Romeo professes his
love from ground level. Later there is a fight in which Bernardo/Tybalt
slays Riff/Mercutio and Tony/Romeo takes revenge and kills Bernardo/
Tybalt. Then Maria/Juliet argues with Anita/Nurse about why she is in love
with Tony/Romeo even though he killed her relative Bernardo/Tybalt
(Maria's brother and Juliet's cousin on her mother's side). Meanwhile Tony/
Romeo lays low under Doc's/Friar Lawrence's care. Through middle men
Tony/Romeo and Maria/Juliet make plans to run away together but by
slightly different reasons Tony/Romeo thinks that Maria/Juliet is dead and
manages to commit suicide (Tony does it by finding Juliet's suitor Chino
who is out to kill him while Romeo does it by ingesting poison). Thus
Maria/Juliet is left without the love of her life (Maria lives while Juliet
stabs herself with Romeo's dagger and dies).

West Side Story adds another element to the complex Shakespearean plot:
racism. The play focuses on two gangs a New York gang (the Jets) and a
Puerto Rico gang (the Sharks). There are two types of racism against the
Puerto Ricans in the movie: Racism from the Jets and Racism from the

The Jets are incredibly cruel to every Puerto Rican that they encounter.
When the Sharks' leader, Bernardo, asks the Jets leader, Riff, "Who
jumped us on the first day we came here?" Riff responds with the racist
rhetorical question, "Who asked you to come here?" This statement by
Riff is symbolic of the many instances of racial degradation throughout
the movie.

The Jets call a Shark a racially derogatory term that will not be displayed
in this text as they chase him through the playground. This term is
repeated in the fight scene under the freeway. Later on when Anita
comes into Doc's bar she is subject to derogatory terms, whistled at, and
pushed around by the Jets. This scene is indeed the climax of the racial
tension of the movie. It is unknown how far the Jets would have gone in
their harassment if Doc didn't stop them.

The other discrimination against the Sharks is from the detective. While
the Jets' harassment seems initially petty because in reality the Jets are in
no better a place in life than the Sharks, the harassment from the detective
is especially poignant in that is abuse from an authority figure to his
underlings. The detective initially is sympathetic to the Jets after the first
scuffle and asks one particular Jet to tell him which one of the Puerto
Ricans gave him a black eye. Later, after the war council, the detective
is verbally abusive to the Sharks and again sides with the Jets, pleading
with Riff to tell him where the rumble would be so that he could help the
Jets expel the Sharks from town. Overall, the movie's use of racism shows
a disconcerting truth about the era in which the movie takes place.
What the story is about:
A modern-day, loose re-telling of Shakespeare's love story of
Romeo and Juliet; the tragedy of their feuding families being
replaced with conflict between rival teenage street gangs of
different cultural backgrounds (the Jets: second-generation
Americans from white European immigrant families and the
Sharks: newly-arrived Puerto Rican immigrants) though the
setting of the Upper West Side of New York City in the late
1950's. Tony, a member of the Manhattan gang, falls in love
with Maria, the sister of a member of the rival Puerto Rican
gang. The dark theme which focused on social issues and
sophisticated music marked a turning point in
American musical theater.
Former gang member
falls in love with the
rival gang member's sister.
It is based loosely on
"Romeo and Juliet."
Where the story takes place 
(ex: name of city, country, etc.):
New York City
Name possible clues in the movie that tell
you this location (ex: famous landmarks,
speech accents, etc.)
New York City accent,
tall buildings of New York
Setting of the story
(ex: farm, big city, slums,
affluent neighborhood, etc.)
Time frame the story takes place in:
Late 1950's
Name possible clues in the movie that tell
you the time frame (ex: style of clothes
and hair, types of transportation,
modern inventions, etc.):
Automobiles, hairstyles,
mannerisms and slang

Names of main characters and short
descriptions of each (ex: John Smith
salesman, Mary Smith-wife
of John Smith, etc.):
A self-styled "American" street gang
A group of young Puerto Ricans
Leader of the Jets
Leader of the Sharks
Police officer who dealt with the gangs
Co-founder and former member
of the Jets, in love with Maria
Bernardo's sister
Bernardo's girlfriend
Bernardo's friend engaged to Maria
Inner messages within the story (ex:
morals, ethics, etc.) and explain the
message you think the author of the
movie (or story) is trying to convey:
Racial strife between rival
New York street gangs,
juvenile delinquency, and
inner-city problems of the
mid-twentieth century, lovers
that crossed racial/ethnic
barriers, immigrant families, death
It is interesting how the story theme, though
written in the 1950's, is still current today:
West Side Story
The Theme Still Fits the Times
There's currently a Broadway revival of my favorite musical, West Side Story.
Since its original stage presentations on Broadway in 1957 and in London in
1958, productions of West Side Story have been endless, from amateur high
school drama to professional touring companies.
The 1961 movie version of West Side Story won 10 Academy Awards
including Best Picture, Best Supporting Actor and Actress (George Chakiris,
Rita Moreno), Best Score (Leonard Bernstein, Stephen Sondheim) and Best
Director (team of Robert Wise, Jerome Robbins). Choreographer Jerome
Robbins won both an Oscar and a Tony for the dancing. Songs like "Maria,"
"When You're a Jet," "America" and "There's a Place for Us" are unforgettable.
But enough about the credits; why does this story continue to be so powerful? 

West Side Story is based on William Shakespeare's Romeo and Juliet. Both
stories challenge us to look at our own biases and prejudices. Instead of
feuding Italian families, the setting for West Side Story is 1950's New York
City. "Tony," a white young man of Polish descent, falls in love with "Maria,"
a Puerto Rican whose family has recently come to New York. To understand
why their love is taboo, here's a bit of real history:

Puerto Ricans became automatic citizens of the U.S. in 1917. But Puerto Rico
wasn't officially declared a Commonwealth of the United States, able to self-
govern, until 1952. After this, thousands of Puerto Rican citizens came to the
mainland seeking the American dream. Meanwhile, the streets of New York
and its burroughs were seeing a renewed insurgence of territorial bullying by
various gangs of hapless young men - some with dirt-poor or ne'er-do-well
parents - others just trying to be cool by being "hoodlums." These gangs felt
their territories were now threatened by the Puerto Rican arrivals, who formed
their own gangs for protection.

In West Side Story, The Jets are the prevailing white gang and The Sharks are
the Puerto Rican threat. Brawls, war councils, and "rumbles" to see who is the
best and therefore worthy of ruling the territory are commonplace.

As with Romeo and Juliet, Tony and Maria fall in love at first sight and there is
nothing but trouble from that point on. A rumble is already set to take place over
territorial rights. So Tony tries to stop it. But Maria's brother Bernardo (a parallel
to Tybalt, Juliet's cousin) kills Tony's best friend Riff (Romeo's best friend
Mercutio) and Tony accidentally kills Bernardo. More tragedy ensues when
Maria's intended husband Chino, a matchmaking set up by her brother and
parents just as Juliet was betrothed to another, kills Tony.

In the touching last scene, members of both the Jets and Sharks unite to carry
Tony's body off; drawing the conclusion that life is vulnerable when people
don't get along for reasons of bias and prejudice.

Maria doesn't die, but she delivers the key closing line while waving a gun at
the circle of young men: "You all killed Tony. And my brother, and Riff. Not
with bullets, or guns, but with hate. Well now I can kill, too, because now I
have hate."

Things hadn't changed much since Shakespeare wrote this in Romeo and Juliet
centuries ago: "Where be these enemies? Capulet, Montague? See what a
scourge is laid upon your hate...All are punished."

Bigotry and prejudice can last so long that we don't even know why we're
fighting anymore. It can be generational; handed down because of past events
or fable or lasting feelings translated to our children and our children's children
because people refuse to hear what someone else has to say. Pretty soon, we
think just because someone doesn't agree with us, they must "hate" us.

Sound familiar?

At one point in West Side Story, Tony and Maria sing "One Hand, One Heart"
in front of a stained glass window with bars resembling a cross. Some people
blame all of the world's problems on organized religion which has been used
to wield power and force. But it's not religion itself - it's a matter of the heart's
condition. Whether it's Cain vs. Abel, the Montagues vs. Capulets, The Jets vs.
Sharks, the North vs. South, the Hatfields vs. McCoys, conservative vs. liberal,
black vs. white, Muslim vs. Jew or Christian, Crips vs. Bloods, white collar
crime, or Congress vs. the President. Whether it's rich vs. poor, and sometimes
even denomination against denomination within the same faith. For some
reason, we all want to be the best, "the one who's right."

"It's a free country, but I ain't got the right," Lieutenant Shrank says in West
Side Story. With all of this infighting, who does have "the rights"? Why does
there have to be a "versus"?

These problems continue because of man's will, man thinking himself better
than someone else, and ultimately by rejecting God's love or abusing the faith
of others. No, I'm not talking about needing "religion"- just plain and simply
acknowledging there is a God.

I will forever be convinced that people can't love each other until we fully
appreciate how much God loves us. Will everything be perfect? No, humans
are unable to satisfy each other all the time or put every single difference aside.
But developing a deeper respect and love for each other and God could sure
help make life more tolerable.

"Love the Lord your God with all your heart, and with all your soul and with all
your strength" (Deuteronomy 6:5 in the Old Testament, Mark 12:30 in the New).
And next,"love your neighbor as you love yourself" (Mark 12:31). Without
inflicting personal interpretations, denominations and regulations, these verses
can help us love and respect each other, even if we don't agree on everything.
Imagine that.

Current Broadway revival of West Side Story:

Newest website by the daughter of Leonard Bernstein

Photos, cast of West Side Story movie version: Imdb

Academy Award info: AMC "filmsite"

Romeo and Juliet, as found in The Complete Works of William Shakespeare,
from Cambridge University Press, 1921 to Amaranth Press, 1985.

Bible Verses taken from the Holy Bible, New International Version®,
NIV®. Copyright © 1973, 1978, 1984 by the International Bible Society.
Used by permission of Zondervan. All rights reserved

Personal opinion (your ENJOYMENT factor:
why you liked or disliked the musical):

Personal opinion on the QUALITY OF THE
ARTISTRY in this musical: (ex: how well
acted, quality of the singing voice(s),
cinematography, memorable
melodies, etc.):
Terms or phrases used in the movie
that are new, unusual to you,
and/or not often used:
gang war
Puerto Rican [nationality] (abbreviated PR)
street gang
forbidden love
Song titles (hint: listen for repeated words
or phrases in the song and guess the name
of the song if you don't know the name):
from West Side Story (I)
from West Side Story (II)

from West Side Story (III)

from West Side Story (IV)

1. Who is the leader of the Jets?
A. Maria
B. Tony
C. Riff
D. Ice
2. Who is the composer
of West Side Story?
A. Stephen Sondheim
B. John Williams
C. Leonard Bernstein
D. Oscar Hammerstein
3. Bernardo kills _________
at the rumble.
4. What classic story is West
 Side Story based on? 
A. Romeo and Juliet
B. Tale of Two Cities
C. Catcher in the Rye
D. The Glass Menagerie
5. In which song do Tony and Maria
 "pretend" to get married?
A. America
B. Maria
C. Officer Krupke Song
D. One Hand, One Heart
6. Who is Anybody's?
A. One of the Shark's girlfriends
B. A girl that wants to be a Jet
C. A neighborhood woman
D. A friend of Riff's
E. The person who kills Bernardo
7. Who dies in West Side Story?
A. Riff
B. Riff and Bernardo
C. Riff, Bernardo and Tony
D. Tony and Maria
E. Bernardo
8. How does Bernardo react to seeing
 Maria with Tony at the dance?
A. He is delighted because he secretly hates Chino.
B. He does not see them together .
C. He does not do anything.
D. He runs out of the dance.
E. He yells for Tony to stay away from Maria and drags her away.
9. Why was West Side Story
considered to be controversial?
A. It portrayed an inter-racial couple.
B. The story was said to glamorize teenage delinquency .
C. Teenagers committing murder was shocking back then.
D. All the authority figures in the story were in a sense ineffectual.
E. It commented directly on social and race issues in America.
10. Why do the Jets
dislike the Sharks?
A. Bernardo attacked Tony.
B. The Sharks vandalized their houses.
C. Riff is jealous of Bernardo.
D. They feel they are stealing their territory.
E. The Sharks tease them.
11. Who was the leader
of the Jets?
A. Action
B. Arab
C. Riff
D. Bernarto

12. Who was the leader
of the Sharks?

13. Who wanted to take
over the Jets?

14. Which police officer
was a detective?

15. Which gang is
Puerto Rican?
A. Sharks
B. Jets
C. Vigil

D. Jests
16. Who was Maria supposed
to be marrying?
A. Arab
B. Action
C. Chino
D. Tony
17. Which gang threw a stink
bomb into the bodega?
A. Sharks
B. Vigils
C. Jests
D. Jets
18. Which female is trying
to join the Jets?
A. Anita
B. Anybodys
C. Maria
D. Jessica

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