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West Side Story Is Released (1961)

West Side Story Is Released (1961)

West Side Story was originally going to be called East Side Story, with Jerome Robbins’ initial script focussing on the ill-fated romance between a Catholic boy and a Jewish girl in New York’s East Side. The story was loosely inspired by Shakespeare’s Romeo and Juliet. This idea was put to the side for nearly a decade as Robbins and his partners Leonard Bernstein and Arthur Laurents worked on other projects. In the mid-1950s, rising news coverage of tensions between white New Yorkers and Puerto Ricans encouraged the collaborators to revisit the concept and move the action from New York’s East Side to the West Side. West Side Story debuted on Broadway in 1957 with lyrics by Stephen Sondheim. It was met with fantastic reviews and eventually was nominated for six Tonys, winning two. This success led to a film adaptation in 1961 which was equally well received, earning 11 Oscar nominations, and winning 10 (including Best Picture and breaking records at the time). During the filming, the actors who portrayed The Jets and The Sharks were kept apart, to help make their tension on screen seem more authentic. Audrey Hepburn was initially offered the role of Maria, but due to her pregnancy, Natalie Wood was cast in the role.

Learn more about musicals with these activities!

Activity Ideas:

  • Learn more about modern musicals with our partners at Street Theatre – here
  • Organise a musical film night with these film flashcards – here
  • Learn more about musicals with our Oomph! Special Edition Digest – here