West Side Story

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  • Topic: Gang, Somewhere, Tucker Smith
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  • Published : October 9, 2012
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Beth Cooper
Professor Barrett
Introduction to Drama

West Side Story is an American musical with a book by Arthur Laurents, music by Leonard Bernstein, and lyrics by Stephen Sondheim. The musical's plot is based on William Shakespeare's Romeo and Juliet. Set in New York in the mid-1950s, the musical explores the rivalry between the Jets and the Sharks, two teenage street gangs of different ethnic and cultural backgrounds. The members of the Sharks are first-generation Americans from Puerto Rico taunted by the Jets, a white group who consider themselves the true Americans. The young protagonist, Tony, one of the Jets, falls in love with Maria, the sister of Bernardo, the leader of the Sharks. The dark theme, sophisticated music, extended dance scenes, and focus on social problems marked a turning point in American musical theatre. Bernstein's score for the musical has become extremely popular; it includes "Something's Coming", "Maria", "America", "Somewhere", "Tonight", "Jet Song", "I Feel Pretty", "One Hand, One Heart", and "Cool". The original 1957 Broadway production, directed and choreographed by Jerome Robbins and produced by Robert E. Griffith and Harold Prince, marked Stephen Sondheim's Broadway debut. It ran for 732 performances (a successful run for the time), before going on tour. The production garnered a Tony Award nomination for Best Musical in 1957, but the award went to Meredith Willson's The Music Man. It won a Tony Award in 1957 for Robbins' choreography. The show had an even longer-running London production, a number of revivals and international success, and spawned an innovative, award-winning 1961 musical film of the same name. West Side Story is produced frequently by schools, regional theaters, and occasionally by opera companies. Jerome Robbins, Leonard Bernstein and Arthur Laurents originally conceived the idea of writing a musical version of William Shakespeare’s Romeo and Juliet, they planned to call it East Side Story and center it on a star-crossed romance between a Jewish boy and an Italian Catholic girl. Because of other commitments, however, they were forced to shelve the project for six years, and by the time they returned to it, they decided that this idea had lost its social relevancy. Instead, they would tell the story of a native-born Polish boy named Tony and a Puerto Rican girl, named Maria, newly arrived in America and they would set it against the backdrop of clashing street gang on the city’s West side. At this point, Bernstein decided against writing his own lyrics and offered the job to a virtually unknown lyricist named Stephen Sondheim. West Side Story remains true to its Shakespearean model. Things look good for the young lovers in the beginning, but when Tony, much like Romeo, accidentally kills his lover’s brother while trying to break up a rumble, violence erupts. The musical received rave reviews for its unflinching portrayal of gang life. (westsidestory.com) The story begins with two rival gangs of the streets of Upper West Side of Manhattan, The Jets and The Sharks. The Jets are composed of white American teens led by the leader of the pack, Riff. They represent one side of the racial rivalry. On the other side is the Puerto Ricans coming to America for freedom, The Sharks, the leader of their pack is Bernardo, dark-skinned, black haired Puerto Rican immigrant. They brawl the streets of the city for the right to call it their own. The Jets are trying to get rid of the PRs, as they would call the Puerto Ricans, off their streets. Each gang feels they have the right to rumble the turf of the city to rightful call their home. The Puerto Ricans only came to America to receive their own rights to be free from immigration. The Jets have no simply for those PRs trying to take their streets when they don’t belong in America in the first place. A brawl opens in the first scene of the musical showing the fight between...
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