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A special thanks to the following people for their help in developing this FAQ:
Ann, Susan, Florida Jake, and Jersey John

WSS Frequently Asked Questions

1. How does West Side Story compare to Romeo & Juliet?
2. Where does it take place?
3. When does it take place?
4. What's the basic plot?
5. Who are the main characters and who played them in the movie?
6. Where are the gangs from?
7. Who wrote West Side Story?
8. When was West Side Story written?
9. Where was West Side Story first performed?
10. How are the movie and the stage version different?
11. What awards has West Side Story received?
12. What is the instrumentation for West Side Story?
13. How do I get started on researching more information about West Side Story?
14. How can I find pictures from West Side Story?
15. Can you suggest some topics for an essay about West Side Story?


1. How does West Side Story compare to Romeo & Juliet?

WSS is a modern day adaptation of the timeless classic by William Shakespeare. They both involve two young people that fall in love, but are kept apart by their friends/families. This causes grave consequences.

For more information, please read Jack Gottleib's West Side Story fact sheet.

2. Where does it take place?

West Side Story takes place on the west side of Manhattan, New York City. Most of the scenes take place in the streets, playground, on the roof, at Doc's or under the highway.

3. When does it take place?

West Side Story is set in the mid 1950's, when many Puerto Ricans moved to NYC.

4. What's the basic plot?

For a full plot summary of West Side Story, please visit Music Theater International's WSS page.

5. Who are the main characters and who played them in the movie and original broadway version?

Riff, leader of the Jets
Bernardo, leader of the Sharks
Maria, Bernardo's little sister
Tony, a founder of the Jets
Doc, owner of Doc's store/Tony's boss
Anita, Bernardo's girlfriend
Ice, one of the toughest Jets
Lt. Shrank, police officer
Officer Krupke, police officer

To find out who played each character, visit the WSS Archives Major Productions page.

6. Where are the gangs from?

The Jets are from Manhattan. They have ruled their "turf" for years, after defeating the Emeralds. The Sharks are from Puerto Rico. They have just recently come to NY, and want a "turf" of their own.

7. Who wrote West Side Story?

West Side Story is based on a conception by Jerome Robbins.

Book by Arthur Laurents
Lyrics by Stephen Sondheim
Music by Leonard Bernstein
Entire Original Production Directed and Choreographed by Jerome Robbins
Orchestrations by Leonard Bernstein with Sid Ramin and Irwin Kostal

Film Version:
Directed by: Robert Wise & Jerome Robbins
Screenplay: Ernest Lehman
Choreography: Jerome Robbins

8. When was West Side Story written?

Jerome Robbins' proposed the idea for writing a musical based on Romeo and Juliet to Leonard Bernstein in January of 1949 (working title: East Side Story, set in the slums at the coincidence of Easter-Passover celebrations). In August of 1955, a meeting with Arthur Laurents produced another idea -- two teen-age gangs as the warring factions, one of them newly-arrived Puerto Ricans, the other self-styled "Americans." In November, 1955 Stephen Sondheim joined the project as lyricist. A year and a half later, rehearsals began for the Broadway premiere of West Side Story.

For more about the development of WSS, please read The Growth of an Idea by Arthur Laurents, New York Herald Tribune, 8/4/57.

9. Where was West Side Story first performed?

The stage version of West Side Story opened in previews/tryouts on August 20, 1957 in Washington D.C. Following this and another preview engagement in Philadelphia, the musical opened on Broadway at the Winter Garden Theater, September 26, 1957.

The film version was released on October 18, 1961

10. How are the movie and the stage version different?

While the movie version of West Side Story is among the most faithful of Hollywood adaptations, a number of changes were made in translating the work to film, some to suit the medium, others to suit the audience sensibilities, and one or two so-called artistic choices. Here are some examples.

Setting. While it seems only natural now, the idea of filming on actual city streets took some time in forming. The original stage version was performed with abstract settings, minimal in the extreme.

Score. The music of West Side Story was carefully re-worked for the film. The Overture includes the song "Maria," changed from "Somewhere" in the stage version. (The overture is often eliminated in the stage productions.) Music was added extending "The Prologue", and so the actual dancing of the Jets evolves slowly from other physical movement such as the basketball shots. (On stage, the dancing begins almost immediately.) The change most often discussed and debated is the switching of "Gee, Officer Krupke" and "Cool". Apparently a song as jolly as Krupke was considered incompatible to the mood created by the rumble, so this song, as well as the merry "I Feel Pretty" were both moved up to happier times before the rumble. "Cool" was placed in the slot following the rumble, with great effect. On stage, "America" is a light-hearted number sung by Anita and the Shark girls. On film, new lyrics were added to bring in the Shark boys and the bitter and sardonic view of those boys allow them into the story somewhat more than their stage counterparts. The order of songs is switched here also; on stage "Maria" and "Tonight" are consecutive, followed by "America", while in the film the production number comes between the two love songs. The "Dance at the Gym" was extended as well, mostly to accommodate the acrobatics of Russ Tamblyn. The duet "A Boy Like That / I Have a Love" was shortened for the film version, and "One Hand One Heart" is slightly shorter as well. The stage play contains a full-cast ballet sequence, "Somewhere," which was eliminated in the film. Some of the action of the final sequence-the members of both gangs walking away from Tony's body-repeat similar action from the ballet, and the same music is used.

Character. The changes noted above brought about the introduction of a new character: Ice was created to provide a solid successor to Riff for the later part of the film. This character does not appear on stage. Other minor details, such as Consuelo's decision to go blond (and her subsequent decision to go back) and the light-headedness of Rosalia were sacrificed in the changes. Madame Lucia, the proprietress of the bridal shop, is not a character in the stage version. For reasons unknown, Velma and Graziella have switched partners: In the playscript Velma is paired off with Riff.

Dialogue. Much of the original dialogue remains in the film version. Some lines were added for character and story development. The most noticeable changes were caused by an effort to clean up what might have been considered objectionable words and ideas, used on stage in 1957 but still not acceptable for films in 1961.

11. What awards has West Side Story received?

ANTOINETTE PERRY AWARDS (for the original Broadway production)
Scenic Design - Oliver Smith
Choreography - Jerome Robbins

Also nominated:
Carol Lawrence, Best Actress in a Supporting Role in a Musical
Best Conductor/Musical Director, Max Goberman
Best Costume Design, Irene Sharaff

NEW YORK FILM CRITICS
Best Picture West Side Story

ACADEMY AWARDS
Best Picture, West Side Story
Best Supporting Actor, George Chakiris
Best Supporting Actress, Rita Moreno
Best Direction, Robert Wise and Jerome Robbins
Best Cinematography, Color, Daniel L. Fapp
Best Art Direction, Color, Boris Leven (Art Direction), Victor Gangelin (Set Decoration)
Best Sound, Fred Hynes, Gordon Sawyer
Best Scoring of a Musical, Saul Chaplin, Johnny Green, Sid Ramin, Irwin Kostal
Best Editing, Thomas Stanford
Best Costumes, Color, Irene Sharaff
Special Award, Jerome Robbins for his brilliant achievement in the art of choreography

Also nominated:
Best Screenplay, Ernest Lehman

GRAMMY AWARDS
Best Soundtrack - West Side Story, Johnny Green, Saul Chaplin, Sid Ramin, Irwin Kostal

(That same year, Stan Kenton was awarded a Grammy for Best Jazz Performance, Stan Kenton's West Side Story)

Writers Guild of America
Best Written Musical, Ernest Lehman (for the adapted screenplay, 1962)

New York Film Critics Circle Award
West Side Story, Best Film

Laurel Awards
Cinematography, Color, Daniel L. Fapp
Female Supporting Performance, Rita Moreno
Best Musical

Golden Globes (1962)
Best Motion Picture - Musical
Best Supporting Actor, George Chakiris
Best Supporting Actreess, Rita Moreno

Directors Guild of America
Outstanding Directorial Achievement in Motion Pictures, Jerome Robbins, Robert Wise and Robert E. Relyea (assistant director)

12. What is the instrumentation for West Side Story?

Reed I: Piccolo, Flute, Alto Saxophone, Clarinet in B?, Bass Clarinet
Reed II: Clarinet in E?, Clarinet in B?, Bass Clarinet
Reed III: Piccolo, Flute, Oboe, English Horn, Tenor Saxophone, Baritone Saxophone, Clarinet in B?, Bass Clarinet
Reed IV: Piccolo, Flute, Soprano Saxophone, Bass Saxophone, Clarinet in B?, Bass Clarinet
Reed V: Bassoon

2 Horns in F
3 Trumpets in B? (2nd doubling Trumpet in D)
2 Trombones
Timpani
Percussion (four players) **
Piano / Celesta
Electric Guitar / Spanish Guitar / Mandolin
Violin I - VII
Cello I - IV
Contrabass

** Traps, Vibraphone, 4 Pitched Drums, Xylophone, 3 Bongos, 3 Cowbells, Conga, Timbales, Snare Drum, Police Whistle, Gourd, 2 Suspended Cymbals, Castanets, Maracas, Finger Cymbals, Tambourines, Small Maracas, Glockenspiel, Woodblock, Claves, Triangle, Temple Blocks, Chines, Tam-tam, Ratchet, Slide Whistle

13. How do I get started on researching more information about West Side Story?

You can start by visiting the archives section of www.westsidestory.com. There, you can learn about the history of West Side Story. And for more information, you can head to Google and type in "West Side Story," "West Side Story and Romeo and Juliet," "West Side Story characters," "West Side Story plot," or "West Side Story awards," etc. Good luck and have fun!

14. How can I find pictures from West Side Story?

You'll find pictures at westsidestory.com or you can try an image search at Google's Image Search. Please note that all images at The Official West Side Story Site are used with permission from the copyright holders. If you are interested in using any of the photos at this site, please e-mail licensing@leonardbernstein.com for more information.

15. Can you suggest some topics to include in an essay about West Side Story?"

Here are some sample West Side Story essay topics:

What are the satirical numbers in the show, and what do they tell us about the Jets and the Sharks?
What are the different kinds of songs and musical pieces used in the movie?
What kind of dance numbers are there, and how do they differ from each other?
How in the opening do the Jets transfer from realistic motion into dance?
Discuss the Tonight Quintet - how does it show the anticipation of the gangs and Anita, Maria and Tony?
Arthur Laurents made up the slang that the gangs use. Describe and discuss it.
Discuss some of the interesting cinematic effects (such as the opening sequence of the city, or the use of color)
Discuss the relationship of Maria and Anita?
How do characters' prejudices evolve in the work?
What do you think happens after Tony is shot?