Welcome

 

Welcome to the official West Side Story website! This is the place for you if you've ever been involved in or infatuated with West Side Story  – as an actor, singer, dancer, musician, producer, director, designer, crew or – just as important – as a fan.

I myself have been a fan of West Side Story ever since my dad composed the score back in the fifties, when I was a little girl. I was too little to understand a lot of the story, but I loved it anyway. It can happen with a classic work that it will grow and unfold along with you over the course of your life. And so it was with me and West Side Story. At the age of ten, upon first seeing the film of West Side Story, I vowed I would see it ten times! By now, I've seen West Side Story more times and more ways than I can count: in three different Broadway theatres, in regional theatres all over the country, in movie houses, on video, in schools, in a punk rock version, in a one-woman version by Cher(!), and most recently, at the illustrious La Scala opera house in Milan, Italy, where the blue jeans and fire escapes onstage made a fine contrast with the elegantly dressed audience in the gilded balconies. 

Here, you can indulge your fascination with this groundbreaking musical in any number of ways. You can read about how the authors developed the show's concept and structure (did you know the original idea was for warring street gangs of Catholics and Jews?). You can "go backstage" at the original Broadway production in 1957. You can search through a calendar of West Side Story performances worldwide.

I wish you happy browsing as you explore the world of West Side Story. It's a world I've lived in all my life, and I'm still enthralled by it. 

-Jamie Bernstein

 Rehearsal Photographs, 1957. Friedman-Abeles, photographer.  Courtesy of the New York Public Library.

Rehearsal Photographs, 1957. Friedman-Abeles, photographer. Courtesy of the New York Public Library.

 
 
 

Authors

Play conceived, directed, and choreographed by Jerome Robbins

Music by Leonard Bernstein

Lyrics by Stephen Sondheim

Book by Arthur Laurents

 
 

Jerome Robbins

Photo by Jesse Gerstein (click for high-res)

JEROME ROBBINS

Jerome Robbins is world renowned for his work as a choreographer of ballets as well as his work as a director and choreographer in theater, movies and television. Although he began as a modern dancer, his start on Broadway was as a chorus dancer before joining the corps de ballet of American Ballet Theatre in 1939, where he went on to dance principal roles in the works of Fokine, Tudor, Massine, Balanchine, Lichine, and de Mille. His first ballet, Fancy Free (1944) for ABT, still in many repertoires, celebrated its fiftieth birthday on April 18, 1994. While embarking on his career in the theater, Mr. Robbins simultaneously created ballets for New York City Ballet, which he joined in 1949, and became an Associate Artistic Director with George Balanchine. Mr. Robbins has directed for television and film as well, with his co-direction and choreography of West Side Story winning him two Academy Awards. After his Broadway triumph with Fiddler On the Roof in 1964, Mr. Robbins continued creating ballets for New York City Ballet. He shared the position of Ballet-Master-in-Chief with Peter Martins until 1989. He has created more than 60 ballets, including Afternoon of a Faun (1953), The Concert (1956), Les Noces (1965), Dances At a Gathering (1969), In the Night (1970), In G Major (1975), Other Dances (1976), Glass Pieces (1983) and Ives Songs (1989) which are in the repertories of the New York City Ballet, the Ballet de l’Opera de Paris and major dance companies throughout the world. His most recent ballets include A Suite of Dances with Mikhail Baryshnikov (1994), 2 & 3 Part Inventions (1994), West Side Story Suite (1995) and Brandenburg (1996) all of which premiered at New York City Ballet.

In addition to his two Academy Awards, Mr. Robbins’s awards and citations include four Tony Awards, five Donaldson Awards, an Emmy Award, the Screen Directors’ Guild Award and the New York Drama Critics Circle Award. Mr. Robbins is a 1981 Kennedy Center Honors Recipient, was awarded the Commandeur de L’Order des Arts et des Lettres, is an honorary member of the American Academy and Institute of Arts and Letters, and was awarded a National Medal of Arts as well as the Governor’s Arts Awards by the New York State Council on the Arts. Some of his Broadway shows include On the Town, Billion Dollar Baby, High Button Shoes, West Side Story, The King and I, Gypsy, Peter Pan, Miss Liberty, Call Me Madam and Fiddler on the Roof. In 1989, Jerome Robbins’s Broadway won six Tony Awards including Best Musical and Best Director. He was most recently awarded the French Chevalier dans l’Ordre National de la Legion d’Honneur. Jerome Robbins passed away in 1998.


LEONARD BERNSTEIN

Leonard Bernstein was born in Lawrence, Massachusetts. He took piano lessons as a boy and attended the Garrison and Boston Latin Schools. At Harvard University, he studied with Walter Piston, Edward Burlingame-Hill, and A. Tillman Merritt, among others. Before graduating in 1939, he made an unofficial conducting debut with his own incidental music to The Birds, and directed and performed in Marc Blitstein’s The Cradle Will Rock. Then at the Curtis Institute of Music in Philadelphia, he studied piano with Isabella Vengerova, conducting with Fritz Reiner, and orchestration with Randall Thompson.

In 1940, he studied at the Boston Symphony Orchestra’s newly created summer institute, Tanglewood, with the orchestra’s conductor, Serge Koussevitzky. Bernstein later became Koussevitzky’s conducting assistant. Bernstein was appointed to his first permanent conducting post in 1943, as Assistant Conductor of the New York Philharmonic. On November 14, 1943, Bernstein substituted on a few hours notice for the ailing Bruno Walter at a Carnegie Hall concert, which was broadcast nationally on radio, receiving critical acclaim. Soon orchestras worldwide sought him out as a guest conductor. In 1945 he was appointed Music Director of the New York City Symphony Orchestra, a post he held until 1947. After Serge Koussevitzky died in 1951, Bernstein headed the orchestral and conducting departments at Tanglewood, teaching there for many years.

In 1951 he married the Chilean actress and pianist, Felicia Montealegre. He was also visiting music professor, and head of the Creative Arts Festivals at Brandeis University in the early 1950s. Bernstein became Music Director of the New York Philharmonic in 1958. From then until 1969 he led more concerts with the orchestra than any previous conductor. He subsequently held the lifetime title of Laureate Conductor, making frequent guest appearances with the orchestra. More than half of Bernstein’s 400-plus recordings were made with the New York Philharmonic. Bernstein traveled the world as a conductor. Immediately after World War II, in 1946, he conducted in London and at the International Music Festival in Prague. In 1947 he conducted in Tel Aviv, beginning a relationship with Israel that lasted until his death. In 1953, Bernstein was the first American to conduct opera at the Teatro alla Scala in Milan: Cherubini’s Medea with Maria Callas.

Bernstein was a leading advocate of American composers, particularly Aaron Copland. The two remained close friends for life. As a young pianist, Bernstein performed Copland’s Piano Variations, so often he considered the composition his trademark. Bernstein programmed and recorded nearly all of the Copland orchestral works —many of them twice. He devoted several televised “Young People’s Concerts” to Copland, and gave the premiere of Copland’s Connotations, commissioned for the opening of Philharmonic Hall (now Avery Fisher Hall) at Lincoln Center in 1962. While Bernstein’s conducting repertoire encompassed the standard literature, he may be best remembered for his performances and recordings of Haydn, Beethoven, Brahms, Schumann, Sibelius and Mahler. Particularly notable were his performances of the Mahler symphonies with the New York Philharmonic in the 1960s, sparking a renewed interest in the works of Mahler.

Inspired by his Jewish heritage, Bernstein completed his first large-scale work: Symphony No. 1: “Jeremiah.” (1943). The piece was first performed with the Pittsburgh Symphony Orchestra in 1944, conducted by the composer, and received the New York Music Critics’ Award. Koussevitzky premiered Bernstein’s Symphony No. 2: “The Age of Anxiety” with the Boston Symphony Orchestra, Bernstein as piano soloist. His Symphony No. 3: “Kaddish,” composed in 1963, was premiered by the Israel Philharmonic Orchestra. “Kaddish” is dedicated “To the Beloved Memory of John F. Kennedy.” Other major compositions by Bernstein include Prelude, Fugue and Riffs for solo clarinet and jazz ensemble (1949); Serenade for violin, strings and percussion, (1954); Symphonic Dances from West Side Story, (1960); Chichester Psalms for chorus, boy soprano and orchestra (1965); Mass: A Theater Piece for Singers, Players and Dancers, commissioned for the opening of the John F. Kennedy Center for the Performing Arts in Washington, DC, and first produced there in 1971; Songfest, a song cycle for six singers and orchestra (1977); Divertimento, for orchestra (1980); Halil, for solo flute and small orchestra (1981); Touches, for solo piano (1981); Missa Brevis for singers and percussion (1988); Thirteen Anniversaries for solo piano (1988); Concerto for Orchestra: Jubilee Games, (1989); and Arias and Barcarolles for two singers and piano duet (1988). Bernstein also wrote a one-act opera, Trouble in Tahiti, in 1952, and its sequel, the three-act opera, A Quiet Place in 1983. He collaborated with choreographer Jerome Robbins on three major ballets: Fancy Free (1944) and Facsimile (1946) for the American Ballet theater; and Dybbuk (1975) for the New York City Ballet. He composed the score for the award-winning movie On the Waterfront (1954) and incidental music for two Broadway plays: Peter Pan (1950) and The Lark (1955).

Bernstein contributed substantially to the Broadway musical stage. He collaborated with Betty Comden and Adolph Green on On The Town (1944) and Wonderful Town (1953). In collaboration with Richard Wilbur and Lillian Hellman and others he wrote Candide (1956). Other versions of Candide were written in association with Hugh Wheeler, Stephen Sondheim et all. In 1957 he again collaborated with Jerome Robbins, Stephen Sondheim, and Arthur Laurents, on the landmark musical West Side Story, also made into the Academy Award-winning film. In 1976 Bernstein and Alan Jay Lerner wrote 1600 Pennsylvania Avenue. Festivals of Bernstein’s music have been produced throughout the world. In 1978 the Israel Philharmonic sponsored a festival commemorating his years of dedication to Israel. The Israel Philharmonic also bestowed on him the lifetime title of Laureate Conductor in 1988. In 1986 the London Symphony Orchestra and the Barbican Centre produced a Bernstein Festival. The London Symphony Orchestra in 1987 named him Honorary President. In 1989 the city of Bonn presented a Beethoven/Bernstein Festival. In 1985 the National Academy of Recording Arts and Sciences honored Mr. Bernstein with the Lifetime Achievement Grammy Award. He won eleven Emmy Awards and the Antoinette Perry Award for Distinguished Achievement in the Theater. His televised concert and lecture series started with the Omnibus program in 1954, followed by the extraordinary Young People’s Concerts with the New York Philharmonic, in 1958 that extended over fourteen seasons.

Among his many appearances on the PBS series Great Performances was the eleven-part acclaimed “Bernstein’s Beethoven.” In 1989, Bernstein and others commemorated the 1939 invasion of Poland in a worldwide telecast from Warsaw. Bernstein’s writings were published in The Joy of Music (1959), Leonard Bernstein’s Young People’s Concerts (1961), The Infinite Variety of Music (1966), and Findings (1982). Each has been widely translated. He gave six lectures at Harvard University in 1972-1973 as the Charles Eliot Norton Professor of Poetry. These lectures were subsequently published and televised as The Unanswered Question.

Bernstein always rejoiced in opportunities to teach young musicians. His master classes at Tanglewood were famous. He was instrumental in founding the Los Angeles Philharmonic Institute in 1982. He helped create a world class training orchestra at the Schleswig Holstein Music Festival. He founded the Pacific Music Festival in Sapporo, Japan. Modeled after Tanglewood, this international festival was the first of its kind in Asia and continues to this day.

Bernstein received many honors. He was elected in 1981 to the American Academy of Arts and Letters, which gave him a Gold Medal. The National Fellowship Award in 1985 applauded his life-long support of humanitarian causes. He received the MacDowell Colony’s Gold Medal; medals from the Beethoven Society and the Mahler Gesellschaft; the Handel Medallion, New York City’s highest honor for the arts; a Tony award (1969) for Distinguished Achievement in the Theater; and dozens of honorary degrees and awards from colleges and universities. He was presented ceremonial keys to the cities of Oslo, Vienna, Bersheeva and the village of Bernstein, Austria, among others. National honors came from Italy, Israel, Mexico, Denmark, Germany (the Great Merit Cross), and France (Chevalier, Officer and Commandeur of the Legion d’Honneur). He received the Kennedy Center Honors in 1980.

World peace was a particular concern of Bernstein. Speaking at Johns Hopkins University in 1980 and the Cathedral of St. John the Divine in New York in 1983, he described his vision of global harmony. His “Journey for Peace” tour to Athens and Hiroshima with the European Community Orchestra in 1985, commemorated the 40th anniversary of the atom bomb. In December 1989, Bernstein conducted the historic “Berlin Celebration Concerts” on both sides of the Berlin Wall, as it was being dismantled. The concerts were unprecedented gestures of cooperation, the musicians representing the former East Germany, West Germany, and the four powers that had partitioned Berlin after World War II. Bernstein supported Amnesty International from its inception. To benefit the effort in 1987, he established the Felicia Montealegre Fund in memory of his wife who died in 1978.

In 1990, Bernstein received the Praemium Imperiale, an international prize created in 1988 by the Japan Arts Association and awarded for lifetime achievement in the arts. Bernstein used the $100,000 prize to establish The Bernstein Education Through the Arts (BETA) Fund, Inc. before his death on October 14, 1990.

Leonard Bernstein

Photo by Paul de Hueck (click for high-res)


Arthur Laurents

(click for high-res)

ARTHUR LAURENTS

Arthur Laurents is the author of musical plays such as West Side Story, Gypsy, Anyone Can Whistle, Do I Hear A Waltz?, Hallelujah Baby! (1967 Tony Award for Best Musical) and Nick & Nora; and the screenplays The Snake Pit, Rope, Caught, Anastasia, Bonjour Tristesse, The Way We Were, and The Turning Point (Golden Globe Award, Screenwriters Guild Award, Writers Guild of America Award, National Board of Review Best Picture Award). The last two screenplays were novels as well. His plays include Claudia Lazlo, Home of the Brave, The Time of the Cuckoo, A Clearing in the Woods, Invitation to the March, The Enclave, Scream, Two Lives, The Radical Mystique, My Good Name, and Jolson Sings Again.

He has also directed plays and musicals for the theatre, among them I Can Get it for You Wholesale, Invitation to a March, Anyone Can Whistle, The Enclave, The Madwoman of Central Park West, Birds of Paradise, three revivals of Gypsy (with Angela Lansbury in 1974, with Tyne Daly in 1989, with Patti LuPone in 2007) and La Cage Aux Folles (1984 Tony Award for Best Director of a Musical, 1985 Sydney Drama Critics Award for Directing).

He has also written radio episodes for “Hollywood Playhouse,” “Assignment Home” (Variety Radio Award, 1945), “The Thin Man,” “Army Service Force Presents,” “The Man Behind the Gun,” and “This is Your FBI.”

He has been honored by awards from many organizations among them the National Institute of Arts and Letters, Writers Guild of America, Antoinette Perry (Tonys), Golden Globe, Drama Desk, National Board of Review and the Sydney Drama Critics. He is a member of the Theatre Hall of Fame, P.E.N., the Screenwriter’s Guild, the Motion Picture Academy of Arts and Sciences and is an emeritus member of the Council of the Dramatist Guild.


STEPHEN SONDHEIM

Stephen Sondheim wrote the music and lyrics for A Funny Thing Happened on the Way to the Forum (1962), Anyone can Whistle (1964), Company (1970), Follies (1971), A Little Night Music (1973), The Frogs (1974), Pacific Overtures (1976), Sweeney Todd (1979), Merrily We Roll Along (1981), Sunday in the Park with George (1984), Into the Woods (1987), Assassins (1991), Passion (1994) and Road Show (2008), as well as lyrics for West Side Story (1957), Gypsy (1959), Do I Hear a Waltz? (1965) and additional lyrics for Candide (1973). Side by Side by Sondheim (1976), Marry Me a Little (1981), You’re Gonna Love Tomorrow (1983), Putting It Together (1993/99), Moving On (2001) and Sondheim on Sondheim (2010) are anthologies of his work as composer and lyricist. For films, he composed the scores of Stavisky (1974) and co-composed Reds (1981) as well as songs for Dick Tracy (1990). He also wrote the songs for the television production Evening Primrose (1966), co-authored the film The Last of Sheila (1973) and the play Getting Away with Murder (1996) and provided incidental music for the plays The Girls of Summer (1956), Invitation to a March (1961), Twigs (1971) and The Enclave (1973). Saturday Night (1954), his first professional musical, finally had its New York premiere in 1999. Mr. Sondheim has received the Tony Award for Best Score/Music/Lyrics for Company, Follies, A Little Night Music, Into the Woods and Passion, all of which won the New York Drama Circle Award for Outstanding/Best Musical, as did Pacific Overtures and Sunday in the Park with George. In total, his works have accumulated more than sixty individual and collaborative Tony Awards. “Sooner Or Later” from the film “Dick Tracy” won the 1999 Academy Award for Best Song.

Mr. Sondheim received the Pulitzer Prize for Drama in 1984for Sunday in the Park with George. In 1983 he was electedto the American Academy of Arts and Letters, which awarded him the Gold Medal for Music in 2006. In 1990 he was appointedthe first Visiting Professor of Contemporary Theatre at Oxford University and was the recipient of a Lifetime Achievement Award in the 1993 Kennedy Center Honors. Mr. Sondheim is on the Council of the Dramatists Guild, the national association of playwrights, composers and lyricists, having served as its President from 1973 to 1981. In 1981 he founded Young Playwrights Inc. to develop and promote the work of American playwrights aged 18 years and younger.

 

Stephen Sondheim

(click for high-res)

 

Timeline

 
 
 Jerome Robbins and Leonard Bernstein. Scene breakdown    ca. 1949. Typescript with holograph annotations.  Leonard Bernstein Collection,   Music Division  , Library of Congress (2) Used by permission of The Robbins Rights Trust.

Jerome Robbins and Leonard Bernstein. Scene breakdown ca. 1949. Typescript with holograph annotations. Leonard Bernstein Collection, Music Division, Library of Congress (2) Used by permission of The Robbins Rights Trust.

6 January 1949

New York, NY

Jerome Robbins sets the West Side Story concept
in motion.


25 August 1955

Beverly Hills, CA

A meeting with Arthur Laurents produces another idea: two teen-age gangs as the warring factions, one of them newly-arrived Puerto Ricans, the other self-styled "Americans."

 William Shakespeare. Romeo and Juliet. Boston Ginn and Co., 1940. Ed. by George Kittredge.  Leonard Bernstein Collection, Music Division (1) By permission of The Leonard Bernstein Office, Inc.

William Shakespeare. Romeo and Juliet. Boston Ginn and Co., 1940. Ed. by George Kittredge. Leonard Bernstein Collection, Music Division (1) By permission of The Leonard Bernstein Office, Inc.


  West Side Story  creative team, 1957: (left to right) lyricist Steven Sondheim, author Arthur Laurents, co-producer Hal Prince, co-producer Robert Griffith (seated), composer Leonard Bernstein, and choreographer Jerome Robbins

West Side Story creative team, 1957: (left to right) lyricist Steven Sondheim, author Arthur Laurents, co-producer Hal Prince, co-producer Robert Griffith (seated), composer Leonard Bernstein, and choreographer Jerome Robbins

14 November 1955

"A young lyricist named Stephen Sondheim came and sang us some of his songs today. What a talent! I think he's ideal for this project, as do we all. The collaboration grows."

-Leonard Bernstein


8 July 1957

 Dance Rehearsal. Photos by Friedman-Abeles.  Courtesy of the New York Public Library for the Performing Arts.

Dance Rehearsal. Photos by Friedman-Abeles. Courtesy of the New York Public Library for the Performing Arts.

New York, NY

Rehearsals begin.


 The National Theatre in Washington D.C., 2008.  Via Wikimedia Commons.

The National Theatre in Washington D.C., 2008. Via Wikimedia Commons.

20 August 1957

Washington D.C.

West Side Story opens in Washington D.C.


 West Side Story Playbill, 1958. Courtesy of the Playbill Vault.

West Side Story Playbill, 1958. Courtesy of the Playbill Vault.

26 September 1957

New York, NY

West Side Story opens on Broadway at the Winter Garden Theatre, runs for 732 performances.


Original_Soundtrack_West_Side_Story.jpg

1957

Original Broadway Cast Recording (Columbia CK 32603)


 Tony Awards Dinner Program, 1958. Courtesy of the Museum of the City of New York.

Tony Awards Dinner Program, 1958. Courtesy of the Museum of the City of New York.

13 April 1958

Tony Awards

Best Choreographer (Jerome Robbins)

Best Scenic Designer (Oliver Smith)


  West Side Story  movie poster, 1961.

West Side Story movie poster, 1961.

18 OCTOBER 1961

United Artists motion picture released:

Directed by Robert Wise and Jerome Robbins

Starring Natalie Wood, Richard Beymer, Russ Tamblyn, Rita Moreno, and George Chakiris


71KX6HO9zDL._SL1500_.jpg

1961

Film Soundtrack Recording (Columbia OS 2070)