Overview

Synopsis

Inspired by the timeless story of Romeo and Juliet, West Side Story takes Shakespeare’s star-crossed lovers, and places them in the vibrant battleground of New York City’s West Side in the 1950s. In the midst of the deep-seated rivalry between the Puerto Rican gang, the Sharks, and the white gang, the Jets, Maria and Tony discover that ancient grudges are no match for true love. Their warring factions, however, refuse to back down, and the “rumbles”, romance, and resentment lead the bloody path to the lovers’ ultimate, tragic conclusion With soaring, sophisticated, and diverse melodies, energetic and athletic dance battles, and its remarkably salient social message, West Side Story remains one of American musical theatre’s most revolutionary and most loved treasures.

Show Information

Category
Musical
Rating
Thirteen Plus (PG-13)
Number of Acts
2
First Produced
1957
Genres
Drama
Settings
Multiple Settings
Time & Place
1950s, new york city's west side
Cast Size
large
Orchestra Size
Large
Dancing
Heavy
Ideal for
College/University, Community Theatre, Ensemble Cast, High School, Large Cast, Professional Theatre, Regional Theatre
Casting Notes
Mostly male cast
Includes late teen, young adult, adult, mature adult, early teen characters

Context

The creation of West Side Story was an extended process, involving decades of work, long periods of drought, and the collaboration of four of American musical theatre’s greatest standalone talents. The original idea for the musical came from director/choreographer Jerome Robbins, who wanted to adapt Shakespeare’s Romeo and Juliet into a musical about the conflict between and Irish Catholic and a Jewish family in New York, tentatively called East Side Story. Robbins approached composer Leonard Bernstein and book-writer Arthur Laurents about his idea in 1947, but other work and obligations soon interfered and the project was shelved. In 1955, inspired by the Chicano riots in Los Angeles, Bernstein and Laurents met again, and discussed changing the warring factions to the Puerto Ricans and Polish immigrants in Harlem, which Laurents felt he knew more about. Bernstein and Laurents brought this idea to Robbins, who was excited about creating a musical with Latin influence.

Now fully focused on the project-- newly named West Side Story-- Laurents approached Betty Comden and Adolf Green to write the lyrics. The two famous lyricists turned down the gig to work on Peter Pan instead. Laurents then asked Stephen Sondheim, who initially refused until Oscar Hammerstein convinced him it would be a good experience. Almost 10 years after the initial idea, West Side Story was in development, with book by Arthur Laurents, music by Leonard Bernstein, lyrics by Stephen Sondheim, and choreography and direction by Jerome Robbins. The musical was nearly fully complete by 1956, it would be another year until each of the four creators could fully focus on the the project again.

Finally, in 1957, West Side Story began racing towards Broadway. Despite the withdrawal of a major producer (and the refusal of another to step in, considering the show too depressing), Sondheim convinced his friend Hal Prince to help save the show. Robbins refused to choreograph until he was granted eight weeks of rehearsal (twice the average), and the team had trouble finding actors who could sing the difficult operatic music, perform the extensive, technical choreography, and hold their own as actors. Conflicts between the writing team became heated, and credit for the work was added and rescinded many times. Finally, the Broadway production opened on September 26, 1957, and ran for 732 performances before going on tour. It was nominated for the Best Musical Tony Award, but lost to Meredith Wilson’s The Music Man.

West Side Story has seen many revivals, including the popular 1961 film adaptation, which won the Oscar for Best Picture, among nine other wins. The film was directed by Jerome Robbins and Robert Wise, and starred Natalie Wood (Maria), Richard Beymer (Tony), Rita Moreno (Anita), George Chakiris (Bernardo), and Russ Tamblyn (Riff). The Broadway revival in 2009 wove Spanish translations into the book and libretto. Arthur Laurents, who directed the production, wrote: “I've come up with a way of doing [West Side Story] that will make it absolutely contemporary without changing a word or a note.” The translations, done by Tony Award-winner Lin-Manuel Miranda, were featured in much of the book and in large portions of the songs sung by the Puerto Rican characters, including “I Feel Pretty (Me Siento Hermosa)” and “A Boy Like That (Un Hombre Asi),” among others.

A 2020 revival of the show directed by Ivo Van Hove opened in February 2020 with a pared-down staging using projections and eliminating some songs and famous sequences. The revival was modernized in time, and was shut down in March 2020 during the Covid-19 pandemic response. Whether it will return to finish its run is still undecided at the time of this writing (April 2020).

A new film version directed by Steven Spielberg is expected out in movie theatres sometime in 2020.

Plot

Act One

The play opens with a balletic prologue, half-danced, and half-mimed, showing the growing resentment between the Jets, a gang of white “American” boys, and the Sharks, a Puerto Rican gang. Lt Schrank and Officer Krupke, fed up with all the violence on their beat, chase the Sharks away, leaving the Jets to plot a “rumble” with the Sharks (“Prologue”). The Jets’ leader, Riff, plans to challenge the Shark’s leader, Bernardo, at the dance that evening. He then plans to convince his best friend Tony, a former Jet who is trying to keep on the straight and narrow, that he should join the gang at the dance. Despite some doubts that Tony will remain loyal to the gang, Riff assures the other Jets that he’s here to stay (“Jet Song”). Riff meets Tony at Doc’s Drugstore, where he’s been working, and though Tony initially refuses, Riff eventually prevails. Tony, leaving the drugstore, feels that that evening will be the beginning of something (“Something’s Coming”).

Meanwhile, Maria, a recent immigrant from Puerto Rico, is working in Anita’s bridal shop. Maria is betrothed to Chino, a friend of her brother Bernardo’s, but confesses to Anita that she does not love him. Anita remakes Maria’s communion dress into a stunning gown to wear to the dance that night.

At the gym, which has been converted into a ragtag dancehall, the Jets and the Sharks stand on opposite sides of the floor. Glad Hand, the nerdy chaperone, calls out instructions for the dance, attempting to get the groups to mix (“Dance at the Gym”). When Tony wanders late into the gym, he catches eyes with Maria. They connect immediately and begin to dance, but their budding romance is quickly interrupted by Bernardo, who warns Tony to stay away from his sister. Riff catches Bernardo’s eye and challenges him to a rumble. Maria is sent home with Chino and Bernardo and the Sharks agree to meet Riff and the Jets for a war council at Doc’s.

Later that night, Tony finds Maria’s fire escape, and serenades her (“Maria”). Maria appears from her bedroom, and the two profess their love for each other. Bernardo then calls Maria inside, and Tony runs away. Bernardo scolds Maria for her naivete, claiming that neither Maria nor their parents understand what it means to live in America. Anita attempts to keep Bernardo from leaving for the rumble, but he keeps to the plan and leaves. While Rosalia expounds on how much she loves America, Anita tells Maria of the racism and unfairness they face (“America”). Maria manages to sneak back outside, and she and Tony say goodnight and make plans to meet the next day (“Tonight”).

At the drugstore, the Jets are getting antsy. Doc, the drugstore owner, bemoans the violent rivalry between the Jets and the Sharks, disappointedly calling the boys “hoodlums.” Action and A-Rab are offended, and try to start a fight, but Riff convinces them to save their steam for the rumble (“Cool”). The Sharks arrive, and the two gangs discuss the coming rumble. Tony suggests a “fair fight”-- using only fists-- which the gangs agree to. Bernardo is disappointed to learn that he will fight Diesel, not Jets leader Riff. When the boys leave the drugstore, Tony tells Doc about Maria. Doc is concerned about the implications of this romance, but Tony is too deeply in love to care.

The next day, at the bridal shop, Anita tells the the love-giddy Maria of the coming rumble, and when Tony arrives, Maria begs Tony to stop the fight. Tony agrees, and the lovers fall to dreaming of their wedding (“One Hand, One Heart”).

Act Two

As the day progresses, Tony, Maria, Anita, Bernardo and the Sharks, and Riff and the Jets anticipate the coming nights’ events (“Tonight Quintet and Chorus”). When night falls, the two gangs meet under the highway, and Bernardo and Diesel begin to fight. Tony arrives, and attempts to convince the two to stop. Bernardo teases Tony mercilessly for his “weakness,” and though Tony remains calm, Riff responds by punching Bernardo. This spurs the men to unsheath their switch blades, and begin to fight in earnest (“The Rumble”). Tony attempts to intervene, but his efforts accidentally cause Bernardo to fatally stab Riff. In a wave of anger, Tony retaliates by stabbing Bernardo to death, which then launches both gangs into a vicious battle that echoes the fight in the Prologue. When police sirens are heard, the men disperse, except Tony, who is standing over Bernardo, horrified at his actions. Anybodys, the tomboy wannabe Jet, warns Tony to leave before the cops come. Just in time, Tony flees, leaving only the dead bodies of Riff and Bernardo under the highway.

Meanwhile, Maria is in the bridal shop with Anita, Consuelo, Rosalia, and others, giddy with her love for Tony (“I Feel Pretty”). Later that evening, Maria celebrates, as she had seen Tony running to the rumble, apparently to stop it. However, Chino arrives with terrible news: Tony has killed Maria’s brother Bernardo. In shock, confusion, and grief, Maria runs to her room, where she is surprised to see Tony. At first, Maria is furious, pounding on Tony’s chest, but soon her anger fades. The lovers plan to run away together, and as they sink to the bed, fade into a dream of their happy future together (“Somewhere”).

Elsewhere, A-Rab and Action are set upon by Officer Krupke, but manage to escape him. Meeting up with the rest of the Jets, the gang launches into an amusing rant about their troubles with Officer Krupke in an attempt to lighten the mood (“Gee, Officer Krupke”). Anybodys arrives and tells the gang that she saw Chino looking for Tony with a gun. The gang splits up to look for Tony, and Action welcomes Anybodys into the gang at last.

As the sun rises the next morning in Maria’s room, Tony is getting ready to leave. He tells Maria to meet him at Doc’s so they can run away together. She promises to do so. A grieving Anita arrives, and sees that Tony had been with Maria. She scolds Maria furiously and curses Tony for his actions (“A Boy Like That”). Maria responds by telling Anita of the power of her true love (“I Have a Love”). Anita realizes that Maria’s love for Tony is like hers was for Riff, and softens. She informs Maria that Chino is looking for Tony with a gun.

Schrank arrives at Maria’s to question her about Tony’s disappearance. Anita promises Maria that she will go to Doc’s and tell Tony to wait for her. When she arrives, she finds that the Jets have Tony and are gathered at Doc’s. They taunt Anita with racist slurs and cruelty, eventually raping her. Doc enters, horrified. In Anita’s anger and grief, she tells the Jets that Chino has shot Maria dead. Doc relays this message to Tony, who is overcome with grief at the loss of his love.

Feeling that life is no longer worth living, Tony leaves Doc’s to find Chino, hoping to die at the same gun as his lover. However, when Tony does find Chino, he also finds Maria, alive-- but before the lovers can come together, Chino shoots Tony. He falls to the ground, dying, and Maria rushes to him, weeping (“Finale”). The Jets and Sharks both arrive, and begin to gear up to continue the fight, when Maria grabs the gun. She threatens the others with it, telling them that they killed Tony with their hate: “Now I can kill too, because now I have hate!” Maria eventually drops the gun, unable to shoot, and falls to her knees in grief. Gradually, the two gangs come together and lift Tony’s body, beginning a somber, if peaceful, funeral procession, with Maria at the rear.

Characters

Character Name
Gender
Role Size
Vocal Part(s)

Male

Lead

Baritone


Female

Lead

Soprano


Male

Lead

Tenor


Male

Lead

Tenor


Female

Lead

Mezzo-Soprano


Male

Supporting

Non-singer


Male

Supporting

Baritone


Male

Featured

Spoken


Doc

Male

Featured

Non-singer


Male

Featured

Non-singer


Male

Featured

Baritone


Male

Featured

Baritone


Male

Featured

Baritone


Male

Featured

Baritone


Female

Featured

Mezzo-Soprano


Female

Featured

Mezzo-Soprano


Male

Featured

Baritone


Female

Featured

Mezzo-Soprano


Female

Featured

Mezzo-Soprano


Male

Featured

Spoken


Female

Featured

Spoken


Male

Ensemble

Tenor, Baritone, Bass


Female

Ensemble

Soprano, Mezzo-Soprano, Alto


Male

Ensemble

Tenor, Baritone, Bass


Female

Ensemble

Soprano, Mezzo-Soprano, Alto


Videos

Songs

A song with an asterisk (*) before the title indicates a dance number; a character listed in a song with an asterisk (*) by the character's name indicates that the character exclusively serves as a dancer in this song, which is sung by other characters.

Act I

  • *Prologue (Instrumental) – Jets and Sharks
  • *Jet Song – Riff, Action, Baby John, A-Rab, Snowboy and Jets
  • Something's Coming – Tony
  • *Dance At The Gym (Instrumental) – Jets and Sharks
  • Maria – Tony
  • *America – Anita, Rosalia, Shark Girls
  • Balcony Scene (Tonight)– Tony and Maria
  • *Cool – Riff and Jets
  • One Hand, One Heart – Tony and Maria

Act II

  • *Tonight Quintet and Chorus – Anita, Tony, Maria, Bernardo, Riff, Jets and Sharks
  • *The Rumble (Dance) – Jets and Sharks
  • I Feel Pretty – Maria, Consuelo, Rosalia, Teresita, Francisca and Shark Girls
  • *Somewhere – Company
  • *Gee, Officer Krupke – Action, Snowboy, A-Rab, Diesel, Baby John and the Jets
  • A Boy Like That/I Have A Love – Anita and Maria
  • Finale – Tony and Maria

Monologues

Detective Schrank

If I don't put down the roughhouse, I get put down -on a traffic corner. Your f

... Read More

Detective Schrank

I always make it a rule to smoke in the can. And what else is a room with half-

... Read More

Glad Hand

All right, boys and girls! Attention, please! Attention! Thank you. It sure is f

... Read More

Tony

I tried to stop it; I did try. I don't know how it went wrong... I didn't mean t

... Read More
All monologues are property and copyright of their owners. Monologues are presented on StageAgent for educational purposes only. If you would like to give a public performance of this monologue, please obtain authorization from the appropriate licensor.
All scenes are property and copyright of their owners. Scenes are presented on StageAgent for educational purposes only. If you would like to give a public performance of this scene, please obtain authorization from the appropriate licensor.

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