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West Side Story

Jump Ball?  Staking out turf in West Side Story. Click for bigger picture
Jump Ball? Staking out turf in West Side Story.
The West Side Boys represent an area of New York City immortalized in one of the great American musical classics, West Side Story. In gathering information about the neighborhood, people and stickball teams, we felt it would be a good opportunity to learn a bit more about the creation of this masterpiece.

Schuyler Chapin, New York City's Commissioner of Cultural Affairs was a close friend of Leonard Bernstein and is now one of the Executors of the Leonard Bernstein's Estate. The following notes were taken from our discussion regarding the origins of the play.

"West Side Story was an idea that was originated by Jerome Robbins. He envisioned a modern interpretation of Shakespeare's Romeo and Juliet in which the young lovers are trapped not within the battle of two families such as the Montagues and Capulets, but by the conflict of their different immigrant groups. Each group is trying to retain its bonds, loyalties and unique identity while also struggling to merge into the mainstream of American society.

Jerry began talking to Leonard Bernstein, Arthur Laurents and some others about his idea in the early 50s and the script began to take shape. Originally it was to have been a story set in the Lower East Side of Manhattan centering on a love story between a Jewish girl and a Catholic boy. Jerry, Leonard and many of their contemporaries were of Jewish background, so this made sense. However, by the middle of the 1950s, Jews had started to become more accepted within American society, particularly in New York City. The authors realized that the clash between newly arriving Puerto Rico immigrants and City's more established white working class groups provided a more dynamic and explosive setting.

The West side of Manhattan reflected these tensions. An influx of Hispanic immigrants had started moving into the area. Furthermore, the planned construction of Lincoln Center would soon be displacing tremendous numbers of people, adding more turbulence to the neighborhoods. The drama was there. They began working on the play and then brought in Stephen Sondheim, a young lyricist who was just starting to become known among the musical circles. The play opened in 1957 to critical acclaim. It was released as a film in the early '60s being one of the few musicals to successfully bring to the screen the drama and beauty that had been captured on the stage. After being with us for over 40 years, the script, music and lyrics remain brilliant. It is one of the great modern contributions to American music and theatre."

Back to the West Side Boys


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