Tony en Maria still are happy here :o)
In West Side Story, elemental themes of love, tragedy, and justice are brought to life in dance, song, and music. In drawing inspiration from these themes, the highly acclaimed creators of West Side Story - Jerome Robbins, Arthur Laurents, Leonard Bernstein and Stephen Sondheim - created amusical with deep emotional resonance as well as wide audience appeal.
Re-enacted on stages all over the world, West Side Story is a tale of star-crossed lovers on the verge of finding happiness together only to meet with tragedy. Based on Shakespeare's classic Romeo and Juliet, the musicalprovides an experience that moves beyond the traditional lighthearted entertainment of musical theater. Shakespeare himself based Romeo andJuliet on a narrative poem by Arthur Brooke, "The Tragical History of Romeus and Juliet." West Side Story carries this historical thread into themodern world, infusing the age-old tale with contemporary details, as well as theatrical elements, that shape the story for today's audience.
West Side Story was dramatically revised before premiering on Broadway in1957. Conceived by Jerome Robbins in 1949, the modern version of Romeo and Juliet was to be set in New York City during the period of Easter-Passovercelebrations. Romeo to be Catholic, Juliet to be Jewish; conflict to erupt between the two communities. It was not until 1955 that collaboratorsLeonard Bernstein (music) and Arthur Laurents (book) developed the idea ofsetting the story between teen-age street gangs: Puerto Rican and American.Says the reinspired Bernstein, "Suddenly it all springs to life. I hear rhythms and pulses, and-most of all-I can sort of feel the form." (Excerpts from Bernstein's "West Side Story" Log).
Where Shakespeare uses language to instill his plays with energy and passion, West Side Story paints the story with dance, song, and music.Making history with his powerful choreography, Jerome Robbins successfully integrated dance and story on the Broadway stage. In West Side Story, dance carries forth as much of the action as the dialogue, music, and lyrics; it is through the gritty nature of the choreography that the frustration, passion, and recklessness experienced by the street gangs is expressed to the audience. The tender lyrics and poignant music by Leonard Bernstein and Steven Sondheim complement and balance the tough nature of thechoreography. With such memorable songs as "Tonight," "Maria," and"Somewhere," West Side Story has made a lasting impression upon theAmerican consciousness.
As a contemporary musical, West Side Story differs from Romeo and Juliet inform and detail, but stays true to the tragedy of innocent love caught in acomplex social web that predestines its demise. In West Side Story, love at first sight between Tony and Maria set off a tragic chain of events which bring the story to its heartbreaking conclusion. Maria is Puerto Rican,Tony, Polish-American; they are young, innocent, rebellious-indifferent tothe societal boundaries which they are trespassing. Like Romeo and Juliet, love is all that matters to them.
Inevitably, social reality intrudes upon the inter-racial lovers' idealized world. Instead of the warring Montagues and Capulets, West Side Story revolves around two street gangs, the Sharks and the Jets. At this point intime, the impoverished white immigrant culture, which Tony represents, isbeing threatened by the influx of new immigrant populations, especially thePuerto Ricans, who are beginning new lives in America. The young streetgangs that arise from these ghettos demonstrate their frustrations and tensions through turf wars and street fights. Tony is a member of the Jets, the American gang. Maria's brother, Bernardo, and her Puerto Rican suitor, Chino, are members of the Sharks.
When a street fight breaks out between the Sharks and the Jets, Tony intervenes in hopes of putting an end to the senseless fighting. Despitehis intentions, Tony is pulled into the fight as he witnesses his bestfriend, Riff, killed at Bernardo's hand. In a fit of passion, Tony murdersBernardo, mirroring Shakespeare's pattern of killing and counter-killing of Mercutio by Tybalt, of Tybalt by Romeo. Horrified by his own actions, Tony becomes a fugitive and plans to escape with Maria. All is not to end well for the young couple; through a twist of events Tony is told that Maria hasdied. Not wanting to live without Maria, Tony comes out of hiding and reveals himself to the Sharks. Avenging Bernardo's death, Chino shoots andkills Tony on sight, just at the moment Tony and Maria are reunited.
West Side Story makes one major departure from Romeo and Juliet. This "Juliet" is not fated to die. Maria is left alive at the end of the story, holding the dying Tony in her arms. The audience is left knowing that Mariamust live the rest of her life without Tony-more believable and just as heartbreaking as if Maria had committed suicide. Perhaps more interesting,this ending makes clear the social message West Side Story has to deliverits audience. Maria is left alive to accuse society-to voice the responsibility that everyone shared in the tragedy that befell her. Unlike Romeo and Juliet, Tony and Maria were not "star-crossed" lovers whose destiny was determined by fate, but rather victims of the intolerance, misunderstanding, and mistrust that seem to be ever-present in humansociety.
As a love story, a ground-breaking musical, and a social document, West Side Story challenges each of us to continue the struggle for understanding and justice. The answers today may be no more clear than in Shakespeare'stime, but our ongoing quest for resolution of societal injustices is vitalto our existence.
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