West Side Story is a musical by Arthur Laurents (book), Leonard Bernstein (music), and Stephen Sondheim (lyrics). The musical is based on William Shakespeare's Romeo and Juliet.
Set in Manhattan's West Side/Hell's Kitchen in the mid-1950s, the musical explores the rivalry between two teenage gangs of different ethnic and cultural backgrounds. The young protagonist, Anton ("Tony"), who belongs to the White gang, falls in love with Maria, the sister of the leader of the rival Puerto Rican gang. The dark theme, sophisticated music, extended dance scenes, and focus on social problems marked a turning point in American musical theater. 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 ultimately went to Meredith Willson's The Music Man. It won a Tony Award in 1957 for Jerome Robbins' choreography. The show has enjoyed 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 local theaters and, occasionally, by opera companies.
Two teenage gangs, the "American" Jets and the Puerto Rican Sharks, struggle for control of the neighbourhood, 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, 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 neighbourhood 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 Drug Store 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, who is the Sharks' leader. Maria's family has selected Chino to be her future husband. Maria has newly arrived from Puerto Rico, and, like Tony, is full of hope. Anita makes Maria a dress to wear to the neighborhood dance.
At the dance, after introductions, the young people begin to dance; soon a challenge dance is called ("Mambo"). Tony and Maria 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. 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, which is considered neutral ground. 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 America ("America"). The Jets get antsy while waiting for the Sharks at Doc's while Doc attempts to convince the Jets to call off the rumble, to no avail but Riff tells them to stay cool ("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 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.
In her bedroom, Maria has not heard the news and daydreams happily about seeing Tony with her friends-Rosalia, Consuela, 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, in a fit of rage she repeatedly hits him until he finally calms her down and they plan to get away together, as the walls of Maria's bedroom disappear they find themselves in a "dream" world where everyone gets along. "Dream Consuela" sings ("Somewhere").
Jet members A-Rab and Baby John are still on the run from the police and talk about their fear about what will happen next. Krupke shows up and attempts to arrest them, but they table-top him and run away. They join the rest of the Jets and lampoon the police, judges, psychiatrists and social workers ("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. Tony leaves through the window, telling 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 ("I Have a Love"), 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 tells the Jets that Bernardo was right about them, and then claims that Chino has killed Maria. Doc relates the news to Tony, who has been pacing in Doc's cellar and dreaming of heading to the country 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. As Tony dies in Maria's arms, the Jets and Sharks flock around the lovers ("Somewhere" Reprise). 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. But 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.
- Riff, The Leader
- Tony, The co-founder of the Jets
- Action, second in command, easily angered
- Diesel, toughest of the gang, tall and muscular
- A-Rab, the weary one of the gang
- Baby John, the youngest of the Jets, A-Rab's best friend, also the most sensitive
- Snowboy, Action's best bud
- Big Deal, hangs around with Diesel a lot
- Gee-Tar, mostly a chorus Jet
- Mouthpiece, mostly a chorus Jet
- Tiger, mostly a chorus Jet
- Anybodys, a tomboy who wishes to become a Jet
- Graziella, Diesel's girl
- Velma, Riff's girl
- Minnie, Baby John's girl
- Bernardo, The Leader
- Chino, His Friend
- Maria, Lead female role
- Anita, Bernardo's girl
- Rosalia, Indio's girl
- Consuelo, Pepe's girl
- Lt. Schrank, the Lieutenant in town
- Officer Krupke, the Officer of the town
- Glad Hand, the chaperone at the Dance
- Doc, owner of the Drug Store
- Overture (Instrumental)
- Prologue (Instrumental) - Jets and Sharks
- Jet Song - Riff, Action, Baby John, A-rab, Big Deal and Jets
- Something's Coming - Tony
- The Dance At The Gym (Instrumental) - Jets and Sharks
- Maria - Tony
- Tonight - Tony and Maria
- America - Anita, Rosalia and Shark Girls
- Cool - Riff and Jets (Ice sings it in the 1961 movie version)
- One Hand, One Heart - Tony and Maria
- Tonight (Quintet and Chorus) - Anita, Tony, Maria, Jets and Sharks
- The Rumble (Dance) - Jets and Sharks
- I Feel Pretty - Maria, Consuela, Rosalia, Teresita, Francisca and Shark Girls.
- Somewhere - Tony and Maria
- Gee, Officer Krupke - Action, A-rab, Diesel, Baby John and the Jets
- A Boy Like That/I Have A Love- Anita and Maria
- Taunting Scene (Instrumental) - Anita and Jets
- Finale - Tony and Maria
Many of the key characters in West Side Story have counterparts in Romeo and Juliet:
- Romeo and Juliet starts out with a street fight between the Montagues and Capulets, as the Jets and the Sharks do.
- 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 (however, their characters aren't very similar).
- 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 room 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.
- 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 for him to die also. Romeo wishes to visit Juliet's grave to take poison and die with her.
- Chino seeks out Tony to kill him. Paris finds Romeo in Juliet's (false) tomb and duels with Romeo, resulting in Paris' death.
After tryouts in Washington, DC 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 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 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: Mickey Calin, 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, Consuela: Reri Grist, Teresita: Carmen Gutierrez, Francisca: Elizabeth Taylor; Lt. Schrank: Arch Johnson, Doc: Art Smith, and Krupke: William Bramley.
The 1958 European premiere at the Manchester Opera House
transferred to London
where it opened at Her Majesty's Theatre
in London's West End
in 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
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 Holiday as Tony and Jill Martin played Maria.
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 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.
A 1961 a tour of Israel, Africa and the Near East was mounted.
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 assistance of Tom Abbott and Lee Becker Theodore and scenery was by Oliver Smith. It starred Debbie Allen as Anita, Josie de Guzman as Maria, and Ken Marshall as Tony. Both Allen and de Guzman 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.
A 1987 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 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.
A U.S. national tour, directed by Alan Johnson, was produced in 2002.
A Hong Kong production directed by Jacob Yu was produced in 2000. A new set of Cantonese lyrics by Chris Shum and Rensen Chan was sung in the production. The Hong Kong rock star Paul Wong is starred as Tony. This production was staged at the outdoor plaza of Hong Kong Cultural Center next to the Victoria Harbour, while the venue is exactly the place mentioned in the new story titled Victoria Harbour Story. The orchestra was conducted by Henry Shek.
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.
In 2007, the Fulton Opera House in Lancaster, Pennsylvania and 5th Avenue Theatre in Seattle, Washington were the only professional theaters in the U.S. 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 ever 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.
A French language adaptation, translated by Philippe Gobeille, is scheduled to premiere in Montreal, Quebec in 2008.
A Philippine version is scheduled to premiere on September 5, 2008 at the Meralco Theatre. It will feature Christian Bautista as Tony and Karylle and Joanna Ampil as Maria.
An international tour, directed and choroegraphed by Joey McKneely and produced by BB Promotion, has been performed in Tokyo, Paris and Austria, Switzerland and Germany and will continue to tour in the UK starting in September 2008. It started a West End run on July 22, 2008 at Sadler's Wells Theatre in London. The London production stars Elisa Cordova/Sofia Escobar as Maria, Ryan Silverman/Scott Sussman as Tony, Lana Gordon/Oneika Phillips as Anita, Leo Ash Evens as Riff and Marco Santiago as Bernardo.
Arthur Laurents is scheduled to direct a Broadway revival of West Side Story beginning on Broadway in 2009. He has 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." The Laurents directed revival is scheduled to start at the National Theatre in Washington, DC from December 16, 2008 through January 17, 2009 and to begin previews on Broadway at the Palace Theatreon February 23, 2009 with an official opening on March 19, 2009. The production "will introduce the unprecedented element of selectively weaving Spanish throughout both the book and songs." 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…"
- See main article: West Side Story (film)
The 1961 film version was directed by Robert Wise and Robbins and starred Natalie Wood, Rita Moreno and George Chakiris. It won ten Academy Awards out of eleven nominations.
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 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, was 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....
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 farther 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."
for West Side Story
by Bernstein himself, with assistance from Sid Ramin
and Irwin Kostal
. The orchestra
personnel required is among the largest in the musical theater repertoire. The score calls for 3 piccolos
, 3 flutes
, english horn
, clarinet in E-flat
, 4 clarinets in B-flat
, 3 bass clarinets
, and bass
); 3 horns in F
, 3 trumpets in B-flat
(2nd doubling trumpet in D
), 2 trombones
, vibraphone, 4 pitched drums
, guiro, xylophone
, 3 bongoes, conga, timbales, snare drum
, police whistle, gourd, 2 suspended cymbals, castanets, maracas, finger cymbals, tambourine, small maracas, glockenspiel
, woodblock, claves, triangle, temple blocks, chimes, tam-tam, ratchet, slide-whistle; celesta
; a guitarist
playing electric guitar
, spanish guitar
, and mandolin
; and 7 violins
, 4 cellos
, and a double bass
Bernstein later prepared a suite of orchestral music from the show, entitled Symphonic Dances from West Side Story
. Although the suite is most frequently performed in its entirety, it is occasionally abbreviated. The full sequence is:
- Prologue (Allergo Moderato)
- Scherzo (Vivaco e Leggiero)
- Mambo (Meno Presto)
- Cha-Cha (Andantino Con Grazia)
- Meeting Scene
- "Cool", Fugue
- Finale (Adagio)
A common musical device in West Side Story
is the tritone
(also known as the augmented fourth
). It is featured throughout the musical, such as the word "Maria" in Maria
, and in all of the fight music (The Rumble).
Recordings of West Side Story
- The 1957 original Broadway cast album, with Carol Lawrence as Maria and Larry Kert as Tony.
- The movie soundtrack, with Marni Nixon singing Maria's role (played in the film by Natalie Wood) and Jimmy Bryant (played in the film by Richard Beymer) as Tony. It won the Grammy Award for Best Sound Track Album or Recording of Original Cast from Motion Picture or Television.
- The jazz version recorded by Oscar Peterson and his trio.
- In 1966, Buddy Rich and his big band performed an arrangement penned by Bill Reddie called West Side Story Medley for many years and became one of his most popular performances.
- In 1984, Bernstein decided to re-record the musical, conducting his own music for the first time. Generally known as the "operatic version" of West Side Story, it stars Kiri Te Kanawa as Maria, José Carreras as Tony, Tatiana Troyanos as Anita, Kurt Ollman as Riff, and Marilyn Horne as the offstage voice who sings "Somewhere". It won a Grammy Award for Best Cast Show Album in 1985 and the recording process was filmed as a documentary.
- A 1993 recording, the first recording to document the full score including the overture performed by Britain's National Symphony Orchestra using cast members of the 1992 Leicester Haymarket Theatre production.
- A 2007 tribute album entitled "A Place for Us" marking the 50th anniversary of the show. The album features cover versions previously recorded as well as a new recording of "Tonight" by Kristin Chenoweth and Hugh Panaro.
- A 2007 recording was released by Decca Broadway in honor of West Side Story's 50th anniversary. This album stars Hayley Westenra as Maria and Vittorio Grigolo as Tony. The Bernstein Foundation in New York has authorized the recording.. It was nominated for the Grammy Award for Best Show Album.
- Bernstein recorded the Symphonic Dances suite with the New York Philharmonic in 1961, and with the Los Angeles Philharmonic in 1983. The Symphonic Dances have entered the repertoire of many major world orchestras, most recently by the Simon Bolivar Youth Orchestra under Gustavo Dudamel. It has been recorded by many orchestras, including the San Francisco Symphony under the direction of Seiji Ozawa.
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 covered 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 "Left Eye" 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, and 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 covered "Something's Coming" as a single. Tom Waits opened his 1978 album Blue Valentine with a cover of "Somewhere"; and 19 years later (1997), British singing group The Pet Shop Boys recorded a cover 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."
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. 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.
References in film
- In the movie Anger Management, the song "I Feel Pretty" was used in a number of scenes.
- In the movie Anchorman: The Legend of Ron Burgundy, the news teams rumble under an overpass, to a drum beat like the one in West Side Story.
- The character Paul Viti played by Robert De Niro from the 2002 movie, Analyze That sings a variety of West Side Story songs to prove that he is insane.
- In the film Dirty Dancing where Baby's sister, Lisa, tells her father she might sing "I Feel Pretty" for the resort's talent show.
- West Bank Story is a comedy/musical short film, directed by Ari Sandel that won Best Live Action Short Film at the 2007 Academy Awards.
- Bring It On 4: In It to Win It takes much of its story line from West Side Story, including the two feuding cheerleading squads (Jets and Sharks) and that two members of each opposing squad fall in love.
- The French classical comedy Le Gendarme à New York (The Gendarme in New York), filmed on location shortly after the release of the Robert Wise movie, includes a well choreographed parody of the Jets' and the Sharks' rumble. The middle aged French Gendarmes, on visit in New York City, play a game of cat-and-mouse on a basket ball field in the West Side with hoodlums who stole from them a pack of meat.
- West Side Story is (indirectly) referenced in the movie Shrek, when Robin Hood introduces himself, and bursts into song.
- In the opening of the movie Defending Your Life, Albert Brooks sings along to "Something's Coming" as he plows his new BMW into a bus.
- Jacques Demy's 1967 dance musical Les Demoiselles de Rochefort also pays homage to West Side Story in the jazzy basketball dance scene at the fair. Of note is that actor and dancer George Chakiris appears in both Demy's film and the 1961 film of West Side Story.
References in television
- In 'Retirement is Murder', episode 2.13 of Frasier, the Crane family go to a basketball game. A latecomer to the game says, 'Boy, the traffic tonight is murder', and asks Niles, 'Hey pal, what's the score?' Niles, removing an earphone, replies, 'West Side Story', leaving both the man and Frasier confused, while he proceeds to conduct to himself.
- The BBC used the song "America" as the theme song for their telecasts of the 1994 FIFA World Cup, with no apparent irony.
- The video for the Michael Jackson 1983 song "Beat It" was inspired by "The Rumble".
- An ESPN ad in the 1990s featured sportscasters divided into two "gangs," due to a fictitious "dispute" at ESPN, facing each other and rhythmically snapping fingers, in a parody of the show's opening number and the "rumble" scene.
- World Wrestling Entertainment (WWE) also spoofed the musical in a commercial for the 2005 Royal Rumble, where one gang was composed of Raw wrestlers and the other of SmackDown wrestlers, singing about being the "last one standing;" a fight breaks out between the two gangs, before Vince McMahon wakes up, realizing that he had dreamed the whole scene and quipping, "That wasn't the Rumble I had in mind!"
- The mid-1990s Animaniacs segment "Goodfeathers" parodied many of the songs, including "Maria" (as "Carluta") and "America" ("Perching on Scorsese's Head").
- Sesame Street created "Veg Side Story".
- Saturday Night Live staged "I Feel Pretty" in a horror movie motif, featuring guest host Madeline Kahn as the Bride of Frankenstein.
- In another Saturday Night Live sketch Mary Katherine Gallagher played by Molly Shannon sabotages her school production of West Side Story when she wants to be more than "prop mistress".
- In the 2001 Rugrats West Side Story homage, "Wash-Dry Story", the Rugrats battle the McNulty babies at a laundromat.
- The TV series Family Guy, the episode "Saving Private Brian" includes references to the musical, as Brian's unit spontaneously breaks into dance, before shouting "MAMBO!"
- A recent Nike TV ad showcased tennis player Maria Sharapova preparing for the U.S. Open to various onlookers singing "I Feel Pretty".
- On an episode of The West Wing, C.J. responds to one of Sam's freakouts by snapping her fingers and singing "Boy, boy, crazy boy..." West Side Story is again referenced in the 4th season when Charlie compares himself to Officer Krupke after hearing of Anthony's petty crimes. In yet another episode, during a meeting regarding the assassination of a foreign politician ordered by President Bartlet, the President remarks that they (meaning himself and the national security team) are nothing but a street gang, and that they will have to learn to sing and dance.
- In a Kanto episode titled "Wherefore Art Thou, Pokemon" of the Pokemon anime, two Nidoran are named Tony and Maria, after the two main characters in West Side Story. The two Nidoran are in love, but are kept apart by their trainers who don't get along. Also, in the Hoenn story arc there's an episode title based on the "I Feel Pretty" is referenced as a pun called "I Feel Skitty"
- In the anime/manga series Cyborg 009, the introduction of character of Cyborg 002 (aka. Jet) parodies the opening of the musical.
- The British sketch show Spitting Image featured a parody of 'America' sung by the then Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher.
- On the first season finale of the ABC television show Ugly Betty, Betty's young nephew is seen playing Tony in his school's production of West Side Story, we see him singing some of "Something's Coming" and the final scene of the episode is put to "Somewhere".
- On an episode of Friends, Chandler Bing's transgender father (played by Kathleen Turner) sang 'I Feel Pretty"
- In an episode of the first season of Queer as Folk, Emmett meets a guy in a gay club and they mimic the famous West Side Story scene where Tony and Maria first see each other.
- In an Episode of Queer as Folk, Brian calls Detective Horvath "Officer Krupke."
- The name of the episode of King of the Hill where Bobby meets Connie in a fashion not unlike the musical is titled 'Westie Side Story'.
- In 2000, Gap Inc. hired choreographer Alan Johnson to recreate Robbins' choreography for use in its television ads which were premiered on Oscar night that year. Three commercials were shown, each with a different dance number (Cool, America, and Mambo).
- In Season 6 of Will and Grace, the episode where Will and Grace rival a pair of lesbian realtors from the East Side is called East Side Story.
- In an episode of Scrubs (My Way or the Highway) the surgeons and the doctors dance of down the halls of the hospital much like they Jets and the Sharks do on the streets in 'The Jets Song' at the start of the play.
- In an episode of the Adventures of Jimmy Neutron: Boy Genius, Hugh Neutron sings a song about ducks as to the "Jet Song."
- In an episode of American Dad, Stan challenges two of his gay neighbors to a rumble, in which they then play West Side Story's "The Rumble" music and start dancing.
- A sketch on In Living Color comments on racial tension in New York at the time between blacks and Jews with a parody advertisement of "Crown Heights Story".
- In the episode "Lip Syncin' in the Rain" of The "Suite Life of Zach and Cody," there is a musical number called Floss which is set to the melody of "Something's Coming".
- In the second season episode "Watts Side Story" of Sanford and Son, Lamont dates Julio's sister, to which Fred comments, "Lamont if you take that Puerto Rican girl out, the Sharks are gonna get you, remember that movie West Side Story".
- In the pilot episode of Gilmore Girls, Lorelai refers to Luke as Officer Krupke.
- In an episode of House M.D, Dr Houser refers to a patient (who is a cop) as "Office Krupke".
- In an episode of The Nanny, Rita Moreno guest stars as Coach Stone, one of Fran's high school gym teachers. In the final scene, Fran mentions a boy that she dated years ago. With a tone of disapproval, Coach Stone replies "A boy like that, who'd kill your brother; forget that boy, and find another. Stick to your own kind, one of your own kind." - a reference to the song that Rita Moreno sang while playing the role of Anita in the movie version of "West Side Story".
- A season 1 episode of the BBC series Hamish Macbeth was called "West Coast Story", and made extensive references to "West Side Story".
- In the episode "Operation L.O.V.E." of Codename: Kids Next Door the songs in the musical spoof that of "West Side Story".
- In the sixth episode of season two of the American version of "The Office," Jim alludes to the Jets, a street gang from the musical West Side Story, even snapping his fingers in the same style.
- "War of the Worlds, "Season 1, episode 6 (aired 11/6/91) of "Brooklyn Bridge" includes a segment during which a version of the "Tonight" quintet is sung while the Jewish and Irish families prepare for their first meeting at the "neutral territory" of a Chinese restaurant.
- The Seattle-based sketch comedy show Almost Live presented a sketch called "East Side Story," parodying the gentrification of southern King County. It depicted the conflict between the "Trash" of Factoria versus the "Squares" of Bellevue, Washington, complete with parodied lyrics to several of the songs.
- In the "It's a Small World" episdode of The Invisible Man, Agent Robert Hobbes (played by Paul Ben-Victor) says to Charles Borden (Eddie Jones), "Woah-ho-ho, one second there, Office Krupke, we were not tailed", after being accused of being sloppy for being followed.
- In the television series, Family Guy, Peter Griffin references being a part of the Jets, and a flashback occurs to when the Jets are practicing their choreographed dance and Riff tells Peter that he wouldn't be dealing with the Sharks unless they had the choreographed dance down perfectly.
References in music
- The Santana/Product G&B Maria Maria was inspired by the musical.
- Liverpudlian band The Zutons used West Side Story in their video for Why Won't You Give Me Your Love? in 2006.
- The song "Hide Your Heart" by Kiss is loosely based on West Side Story. The characters in the song's storyline: Rosa, Johnny, and Tito, are the counterparts to Maria, Tony and Chino, respectively. "Hide Your Heart" was originally published in the Hot in the Shade Kiss album (1989) and was also covered by former Kiss guitarist Ace Frehley in his Trouble Walkin' album the same year.
- Alice Cooper performed a segment of "Jet Song" on the track "Gutter Cat vs The Jets" on his 1972 School's Out album.
- The Popular Band LFO titled one of their tracks about a girl and boy in love but separated by their friends "West Side Story".
- The Metallica single Don't Tread on Me contains a brief instrumental nod to the song "America" during the intro.
- The Dire Straits wrote a reference to "Somewhere" in their track "Romeo and Juliet", calling it "the movie song".
- Schlong recorded a version of West Side Story they titled Punk Side Story in 1995.
- The music "I Feel Pretty" it was used in Nike commercial in 2006, produced by Wieden & Kennedy. This commercial, that shows the tennis player Maria Sharapova, wins a gold statue in the greatest award in advertising, the Cannes Lions.
- Selections from the work have also been played by marching band and drum corps continuously, and the 1984 production by The Cadets Drum and Bugle Corps (at that time known as the Garfield Cadets in their 50th anniversary program) won their 2nd world championship using music from the show.
- In the Broadway musical "The Producers" the doorbell of flamboyant director Roger De Bris chimes the notes to "I Feel Pretty."
- "Gee, Officer Krupke" was featured in the 2001 Broadway production and subsequent PBS video of Blast!, a professional on-stage drum and bugle corps, as parody and homage to high school marching bands.
- In the Cyborg 009 original manga, Jet Link/002's introduction scene (which showed how he was captured by Black Ghost) was a parody of the Sharks v/s Jets fights.
- In the Broadway musical "Urinetown" the song "Snuff the Girl" is meant to be a parody of the song "Cool". Complete with snapping, and long dance breaks.
- In the anime Sailor Stars, the entrance of the Starlights is very similar to the introduction sequence of the Jets, with the same whistling music and snapping fingers.
- In The Onion's 1999 parody of newspaper front pages entitled Our Dumb Century, a story dated January 4, 1959 has the byline "One Shark, One Jet Dead in Choreographed Street Fight".
- 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