Forget the damn Gap commercial. Focus on the great music (Leonard Bernstein), lyrics (Stephen Sondheim), and choreography (Jerome Robbins) instead. Its first performance was in 1957. Songs from the musical include
Also made into a movie.
As mentioned earlier, this movie/stage production was a modern adaption to William Shakespeare's "Romeo and Juliet." This can be seen in the incredible amount of similarities between the two. Verona becomes New York, the Montagues become the Sharks, the Capulets become the Jets, and Capulet's Ball becomes the Dance at the Gym. The list can go on.

"West Side Story" was originally supposed to be a story of religious dispute between two families (most likely between a Jewish family and a Catholic counterpart). During the years in which it was filmed, it was discovered that struggle with Puerto Ricans was much more interesting and modern.

This is a great movie, and the music is amazing. Romeo and Juliet has long been a favorite play, but there is one criticism I have of the movie. This is that Natalie Wood received the main role. She had all of the music voiced over by Marni Nixon (you may remember her doing the same for Audrey Hepburn in My Fair Lady). Rita Moreno, another great actress, could also sing, yet she wasn't given the lead roll. Not to say that the product wasn't excellent, but it seems more fair to give the actual singer the lead roll.

The write-ups in this node are fair, however, they fail to adequately point out the genius present in this musical.

West Side Story is considered by many to the the best musical ever created. Not one of the best--the best. Interestingly, it is also considered one of the hardest to perform. I'll explain why throughout this write up.

To anyone with knowledge of popular musicians, this musical's success is no surprise. Based on a novel by Arthur Laurents, West Side Story's music was written by Leonard Bernstein with lyrics by Stephen Sondheim. In the music world, the previous sentence could be written 'music by god, lyrics by Jesus'-- both men are considered absolute masters of their art.

The product of their collaboration is remarkable. West Side Story has not just an incredible score, (the music played by an orchestra during the play), but also phenomenal lyrics.


At all times in the play, Bernstein's music is fascinating. In the entire work, I cannot find one measure of uninteresting content. Bernstein holds the audience's attention through rhythmic changes, modulations (changing the key of a piece in the middle of it), and beautiful melodies. In fact, every melody is a fresh idea, sounding nothing like anything you've heard before. Bernstein consistently employs creative intervals, the distances between notes sung, to give his work a unique sound.


Anyone who's seen or heard West Side Story performed can vouch for the brilliance of Sondheim's lyrics. I recommend clicking through some of the soft-links at the bottom of this node and checking them out. My personal favorites are Jet Song and America (karmaflux's w/u).

I mentioned earlier that West Side Story is considered one of the most difficult shows to put on. There are two primary aspects that make this show difficult.

Tough Songs

Ironically, Bernstein's ability to create unique melodies also makes his work difficult to perform. Singing the tough intervals Bernstein loves can be quite strenuous for the performer. Bernstein gives his singers few places where they can simply sing on auto-pilot. Additionally, the same rhythms that make a song fascinating make it hard to sing. A singer performing West Side Story must always keep one ear tuned to the orchestra. One good example of the difficulty of WSS is in Officer Krupke, a Jet song. In this song, there are more than four key changes. For the uninformed, that's a lot of times to adapt to a new a key. For the non-musically-inclined, changing keys is like changing the number of spaces you indent when writing code. Sure, it's really just a syntactic change, not that hard, but can be a tad tricky to get used to.)

VERY Tough Choreography

West Side Story calls for a huge amount of dancing. The work has seventeen different numbers with seven of those being major dance scenes. In every production of this musical, enormous amounts of time are set aside for teaching the choreography for the Dance at the Gym and Cool. The amount of dance required for these scenes is ridiculous. I've been in productions where several, full, four-hour rehearsals were dedicated simply to learning Dance at the Gym. If you haven't seen WSS, grab a video copy of it and you'll see what I mean. For those without the motivation, imagine about 50 people doing synchronized dance moves in varying styles and rhythms, throw in a mambo competition, some Jitterbug, and a ballet sequence and you're almost there. Mix in some dialog and crucial cues and blocking that CANNOT be messed up at the cost of the audience not understanding the show, and you've pretty much got it.

That's just one scene, folks.

Another song, Cool, has a dance break that is nearly four minutes long. That's a long dance break. On top of that, to match the mood of the music, the dancing must be as intense and frenetic as possible.

While West Side Story has always been a popular show, it was certainly not a (excuse the cliche) household name. That is, until 1961, when it was re-shot in movie form. The production was phenomenal and quickly earned the recognition it clearly deserved. The movie was nominated for eleven Academy Awards and won ten: Best Picture, Best Supporting Actor, Best Supporting Actress, Best Director, Best Cinematography, Best Art Direction and Sets, Best Sound, Best Scoring Musical, Best Editing, and Best Costumes. Damn impressive if you ask me.

West Side Story is simply a phenomenal musical. With music, lyrics, and choreography that are practically unmatched by any other work, it has secured a place in history, unlikely to be usurped for decades to come. If you get a chance to see it, go!

Brief plot summary:

West Side Story opens with a danced Prologue indicating the bitter tensions between the Jets, a self-styled "American" street gang, and the Sharks, a group of young Puerto Ricans. The leader of the Jets, Riff swears to drive the Sharks, led by Bernardo, from the streets (Jet Song). Riff determines to challenge Bernardo that night at a dance in the gym, and prevails upon his old friend and the co-founder of the Jets, Tony, to help him. Tony has been growing away from the gang, and feels the stirrings of other emotions (Something's Coming) but agrees.

Bernardo's sister Maria, newly arrived from Puerto Rico to marry his friend Chino, attends the dance (The Dance at the Gym) and despite the obvious hatred between the gangs meets Tony, who at once falls in love with her (Maria). Later, after the dance, while the gangs begin to assemble at Doc's drugstore to choose a place and weapons for their rumble - a gang fight - Tony visits Maria on the fire escape of her apartment, and they pledge their love (Tonight), promising to meet the next afternoon at the bridal shop where Maria works. As he departs, the Sharks take their girls home and go off to the drugstore, while a playful argument develops between Anita and two homesick Puerto Rican girls over the relative merits of life back home and in Manhattan (America).

At the drugstore, the Jets are nervous about the approaching meeting with the Sharks, but Riff advises them to play it cool (Cool), and when the Sharks arrive, an agreement is reached, at Tony's insistence, to have a fair, bare-handed fight between the two best fighters in each gang the next night, under the highway. Next day, Tony visits Maria at the shop and among the clothing dummies they enact a touching wedding ceremony (One Hand, One Heart). Maria makes him promise to stop the fight between his gang and her brother's. In the quintet Tonight, Tony and Maria sing of their love, Anita makes plans for a big evening, and Bernardo and Riff and their gangs make their own plans for the rumble.

In a deserted area under the highway, the gangs meet for the fight. As it is about to get under way, Tony hurries in, and begs them to stop, as he has promised Maria. Bernardo, enraged that Tony has been making advances to his sister, pushes him back furiously. Suddenly switch-blade knives appear, and Riff and Bernardo begin to fight (The Rumble). In the ensuing action, Riff is knifed, and Tony, grabbing his weapon, in turn knifes Bernardo. Frenzied, the gangs join battle, until they are interrupted by a police whistle. They flee, leaving behind the bodies of Riff and Bernardo.

In her room, Maria is gaily preparing for her meeting with Tony (I Feel Pretty). She is unaware of what has happened, until Chino bursts into her room and tells her that her brother has been killed by her lover. Seizing a gun, he rushes out in search of Tony. Tony, however, has climbed the fire escape to Maria's room, and in spite of her grief she is unable to send him away. Clinging together desperately they envision a place where they can be free from prejudice (Somewhere). In the streets and alleys the gangs flee the police, panic-stricken by the killings. Two of the Jets, Action and Snowboy, have already been questioned, and they explain to the rest of them how to handle the adults (Gee, Officer Krupke!).

The sorrowing Anita knocks at Maria's door, and Tony leaves by the window, taking refuge in the basement of Doc's drugstore. Anita upbraids Maria for allowing Tony to come near her (A Boy Like That), but Maria's answer (I Have a Love) carries its irrefutable force, and at length Anita agrees to go warn Tony that Chino is gunning for him. She goes to the drugstore, but is brutally taunted by the Jets for her nationality, and finally in hysteria spits out a different message for Tony: that Chino has killed Maria in revenge.

Doc tells Tony what Anita has said, and Tony leaves his hiding place, wandering numbly on the streets. At midnight, he runs into Maria, who has been searching for him, but their moment is brief: Chino appears from behind a building and shoots Tony dead. Overcome with grief, Maria takes hold of the gun and points it at members of the gang, but cannot bring herself to pull the trigger. Stunned and remorseful, both gangs agree to declare a truce and they unite to carry Tony's body away (Somewhere).

The Buddy Rich big band performed an awesome West Side Story medley featuring the sounds of Maynard Ferguson on the trumpet. In the middle of the medley, Buddy Rich goes on playing one of the best drum solos that I have ever heard. There is an amazing amount of talent in this recording. Maynard Ferguson is always great to listen too, and the skill of the Buddy Rich band is tremedous. They play so tight and together with such intensity that they make the medley an awesome song.

West Side Story: Homosexual Space Opera At Its Finest

Some of the best speculative fiction has achieved its impact by creating a world identical to our own except for a single noticeable difference, be it absence or presence. What courses might society have taken if, for example, we could read minds? Or had lost the Second World War? Or had just recently intersected with an alien civilization?

West Side Story falls into this tradition: it posits a dystopian America in which menacing street gangs control New York, and violence (both physical and emotional) and repressed homosexual attraction are sublimated into spontaneous, flamboyant eruptions of singing and dancing.

In a technique similar to the lauded 'stargate' sequence in 2001 (a film to which West Side Story can be easily compared), the film begins with a a wash of slowly iridescing colors accompanied by music in order to establish that the action to come will take place in an otherworldly locale. The camera pans over the alternate New York before focusing on the Jets, one of the two rival gangs. As the Jets stroll through their territory, they snap their fingers in unison to a rhythm only they can hear, a collective beat linking their identities. There is a permanent spring in their step, and their movements soon give way to acrobatic leaps and spins. The impact of these early scenes is jarring in a way that resists description, and it is a technique which will be repeated many times throughout the film: internal torment, anomie, and same-sex desires are transfigured by means of a malign grace into something rich and strange.

The Jets encounter their Puerto Rican rivals, the Sharks, who pelt them with cabbages before engaging them in real combat. No punches or kicks are thrown here; the emphasis is solely on demonstrating their respective dance mastery. Jets dive at their foes only to be caught, while Sharks hop and twirl away. The influence of these scenes on West Side Story's descendents, such as The Matrix, cannot be overemphasized.

The brawl is interrupted by officers of the law, who, in an obvious satire of the real NYPD, do not sing or dance but instead threaten to "personally beat the living crud out of each and every one of you." They have not mastered the art that the gangs have, the art of laughing through pain.

Later, Jet leader Riff decides to call a war council with the Sharks to decide once and for all their territorial boundaries. To do so, he must convince former leader Tony to return to the fold. Tony, who possesses dancing prowess that can only be described as psychotic, has left the gang to work in an abandoned warehouse moving crates around at random, which in the world of West Side Story is a viable occupation. This disconnection of livelihood from accomplishment is also present in Brazil and 1984, in which workers toil at jobs which are neither understood nor relevant. Oppressed by this dead-end economy, Tony decides to join the Jets at the upcoming youth dance, which is masterminded by an unnamed, comical authority figure whose incompetence is intended to satirize the bungling higher-ups of Soviet and other totalitarian regimes still extant at the time of the film's production. The dance has been devised by these potentates in order to expend the gangs' raging dance fury in a manner that won't pose a threat to their oligarchy, and for the most part it succeeds, until the word "Mambo" is uttered, and the dancefloor explodes into a turbid, torrid, tempestuous sea.

In an earlier scene, Maria - the sister of the Sharks leader Bernardo - agonizes over what to wear to the dance, before settling on a white dress intended by the filmmakers to represent her vestal nature. At the dance, Maria is transfixed by Tony's supremely corybantic moves, while he imagines her to be the subject of a dream he had the previous night. As Tony and Maria are drawn to each other from across the dancefloor, the movements of the dancers around them slow and the atmosphere blurs and darkens. This is not because Tony and Maria's singleminded attraction abrogates their attention to anything else in the room. It is because Tony's dancing prowess literally alters the fabric of time and space.

The pair are interrupted by Bernardo, who feels that Tony is "only after one thing." He is, and that one thing is the opportunity to repeat Maria's name almost indefinitely, extending his encounter into an improvised solo entitled, appropriately enough, "Maria."

The war council proceeds as planned, and - after cycling through a list of possible weapons such as belts and chains that point to a subconscious BDSM fixation - it is decided that a decisive fist fight will take place between the two strongest members of each gang, due to Tony entering and decrying the use of weapons. "Afraid to use plain skin?" he asks them. Indeed.

Bernardo and Riff shake on it with an exceedingly tentative, effete handshake, a small gesture that betrays the facade of masculinity and points to their deep-seated homosexual attraction.

Bernardo assumes that Tony will be the one to fight, and tells him "When I get through, you will be like a fish after skinning." - implying, of course, that Tony will be limp, wet, and raw - conditions which can also describe a post-ejaculatory penis.

After the Sharks leave, Tony converses with Doc, the owner of the store where the council took place. A remarkable scene ensues in which Tony mentions "A trip to the moon." and describes how "It ain't a man that's up there. It's a girl. A lady." It is a shame the film doesn't devote more time to this future history, although judging from Tony's remarks in this future the moon has been colonized.

Meanwhile, Maria and Bernardo's girlfriend Anita are finishing up a day's work at the dress shop when Maria - dressed in a bright yellow shirt - places a large pink ribbon on her head and expresses her frustration with her brother's pretensions to heterosexuality in the musical number "I Feel Pretty.":
"I feel pretty, and witty, and gay." (emphasis mine) she sings, before donning a crown and imitating Miss America - a gay kitsch icon. It is not the first time this virginal young woman will be lured down the path of same-sex indulgence. Maria and Anita then have an exchange in which key elements of the film's subtext are revealed:
Maria: They fight each other tonight?
Anita: They don't play potsy.
Maria: Why must they always fight?
Anita: You saw how they they gotta get rid of something. That's how they fight.
Maria: To get rid of what?
Anita: Too much feeling. And they do get rid of it. Boy, after a fight, that brother of yours is so healthy.
The "feeling" mentioned here is, of course, the attraction to other men that the gangs' society has not equipped them to deal with, and which they dispense with by means of extravagant choreography. Presumably, Bernardo is so "healthy" after a fight due to being propelled into a state of frenzied concupiscence by his time spent near the Jets (the gang names "Jets" and "Sharks" are blatantly phallic), and uses sex with Anita in this state as a substitute for anal intercourse with Riff or Tony.

During her next meeting with Tony, Maria asks him to intercede and prevent the fight between the gangs. The two then profess their love, and use nearby props to enact a faux wedding sequence. As they kneel, a beneficient yellow light shines down as if to bless their union, likely originating from Tony's allies on the lunar colony.

Soon after, both gangs prepare for the fight, and both unite their voices in song, with such double entendres as "The Jets are gonna have their way, tonight." and "We'll rumble 'em right." included. The fight commences, with actual fists being thrown. Singing and dancing has failed, and the gangs' attraction to each other is translated into sadomasochistic violence. Before long knives - more phallic substitutes - are drawn, and Bernardo and Riff are killed, victims of their inability to find an acceptable or lasting outlet for their desires. Penetration, in this context, equates with death.

A moving scene follows, in which the young Jet Baby John mourns his lost friend on a rooftop, and is confronted by another Jet, A-Rab.
Baby John:I don't want the guys to see me, A-Rab.
A-Rab: Why not?
Baby John: Well, I'm crying.
A-Rab: You are? What for?
Baby John: I don't know, I'm just...
The intimacy between these two young gay men is all the more more affecting for it being forbidden by their code, as shown all too well in the following musical number, "Cool," which opens with dialogue containing a reference to oral sex and a clumsy anal penetration metaphor:
"Now you all better dig this, and dig it good. No matter who or what is eating you, man, you show it, and you are dead! You are cutting a hole in yourselves for them to stick in a hot umbrella and open it wide."
The lyrics are even more explicit:

"Boy Crazy
Get cool, boy
Got a rocket in your pocket
Keep cool, boy
Don't get hot, cause man you've got some high times ahead
Take it slow, Daddy-O
You can live it up and die in bed
Stay loose, boy
Breeze it, buzz it, easy does it
Turn off the juice, boy
Go man, go
But not like a yo-yo schoolboy

The references in "Cool" to anal sex, oral sex, and mutual masturbation are almost too numerous to count, and it is the closest any of the Jets come to directly expressing their orientation to each other.

The Jets are then accosted by Anybodys, a pugnacious lesbian who is the only female they feel comfortable around. She tells them that "I hear Chino tell the Sharks something about Tony and Bernardo's sister. Then Chino says, 'If it's the last thing I do, I'm gonna get that Polack.' Then he pulls out the bad news." (referring to Chino's penis)

Earlier, Chino had been romantically linked to Maria, perhaps in an attempt to expunge his feelings for Tony. Realizing that Tony and Maria are incurably heterosexual, Chino takes out his frustration by roaming the streets in search of Tony, whom he wishes to sodomize.

As for Maria, after having sex with Tony in her apartment, she is confronted by Anita:
Anita: Maria? Open up. I need you. (emphasis mine)
Seeing Maria has been with Tony, Anita seizes her - asserting lesbian dominance - and tells her: "Forget that boy and find another. One of your own kind. Stick to your own kind." Anita says, "your own kind" referring to other women. Disillusioned with heterosexual relations by Bernardo's death, Anita seeks to seduce Maria, but to no avail. As Maria sings:

"Oh, no, Anita, no. It isn't true, not for me. It's true for you, not for me. I hear your words, and in your head, I know they're smart, but my heart, Anita, my heart knows they're wrong. You should know better."

Maria wears a blue robe over her white nightshirt in this scene, signifying how her vestal white has been compromised. No longer a virgin, she has become a capable young woman certain of her sexuality. Simply put, she doesn't swing that way.

Anita realizes she has failed, and so warns Maria that Chino is after Tony. Maria sends Anita to the drugstore to deliver a message for Tony. When she arrives, the Jets are gathered. What follows is one of the film's most disturbing scenes. Jarred by Riff's death, threatened by Chino's outright homosexuality, the Jets call Anita a "tramp," a "pig," and a "lying spic." Here, racial hostilities act as convenient masks for the Jets' deep-rooted fear of Anita as a sexually desirable woman.

Anita is assaulted and then held down, while the Jets, desperate to assert their manhood, lift up Baby John and prepare to throw him at Anita in a cruel parody of intercourse. Baby John, who is the youngest gang member and the one seen crying on the rooftop, represents vulnerability, tenderness, and - by virtue of his age - buggery. In other words, all the things the Jets despise in themselves. By attempting to have Baby John defile Anita, the Jets are trying to ritualistically make him one of them, affirm his status as a "man," and erase everything in him that threatens them.

Anita is rescued by Doc, and then tells the Jets out of spite that Maria has been killed by Chino. "When do you kids stop? You make this world lousy." Doc tells the Jets, implying that their surreptitious sex has caused them to neglect using protection, thus spreading disease.

Tony hears of Maria's apparent death and runs out into the street, yelling for Chino to "get" him. He and Maria are reunited, only for Chino to emerge from the shadows and shoot Tony with a gun (yet another phallic substitute). Upon seeing Tony and Maria embracing, Chino realized the futility of raping Tony, and decided instead to end his life. The film ends with the two gangs gathering as Maria breaks down and weeps over Tony's body. Tony, like Riff and Bernardo before him, is a casualty of forbidden desires left unaddressed and grown malignant, like an undiagnosed cancer.

Clocking in at well over three hours, West Side Story can be ranked as a fantasy epic that foreshadows such films as Star Wars, The Matrix, and The Lord of the Rings - although none of these (save perhaps Star Wars and its lightsbaber/severed right hand symbolism) possess its tremendous social conscience and enduring message for the gay youth of today. It is a difficult film, and this message is frequently concealed within interlocking layers of drama and subtext, but each repeated viewing astonishes more than the last. They don't make 'em like this anymore.

Introduction to West Side Story

West Side Story needs no introduction. The 1961 adaptation of the acclaimed Broadway play is considered by many to be the definitive Hollywood musical. It's not only revered in the musical genre, but is also considered to be among one of the greatest modern romantic tragedies. Upon release, West Side Story was highly praised as one of the greatest musicals of its time, and to this day, still holds the distinction of being the musical film with the most Academy Award wins at ten (including Best Picture).

The film begins with a still image of an outlined aerial view of New York City which segues into different tinctures. This image stays on the screen for a few minutes, accompanied by an overture, before fading into the main title screen. The opening establishing shot tracks the camera slowly over various parts of New York City. The shot is set to ethereal whistles, finger snaps, and metropolitan traffic sounds, all of which help create a tranquil transition into the films beginning scenes. The camera then zooms down between buildings, to the source of the constant snapping. This is when the Jets make their first introduction to us.

The first ten minutes of the film incorporates little dialogue, and instead skillfully relies on choreography and body language to create the setting. The scene builds tension by showing skirmishes between the Jets and the rival Sharks through brief dance sequences in the streets. The confrontations between the two groups escalate to a climactic all-out brawl between them before finally being broken up by police.

The first scene serves as an introduction into the world that is Manhattan in the late 1950's: prevalent juvenile street gangs, authoritarian police officers, and racial unrest. The story here is nothing new. The plot bears much resemblance to Shakespeare’s Romeo and Juliet, which it was adaptated from, but introduces it into a then-modern form which, nearly sixty years later, is still fitting.

Casting and Controversy

The casting is well-conceived and includes many big names of the time. Natalie Wood is both visually stunning and convincing as the object of unconditional love from Richard Beymer who is cast as Tony. Other standouts include George Chakiris as Bernardo, and Rita Moreno as Anita, although the entire cast does a phenomenal job on the many dance numbers in this film.

One important point to mention about the casting: some of the Puerto Ricans in this movie were actually portrayed by whites wearing makeup in lieu of actual Hispanics. Natalie Wood, who was white, was cast as the Hispanic Maria, a decision that sparked some controversy at the time. Also, the majority of the original cast from the Broadway show did not reprise their roles for the movie version. Most were deemed too old to believably portray the teenage characters and were replaced by younger, fresher Hollywood faces. This decision caused some outcry from fans of the theatre version.

Music and Choreography

Being a musical, the choreography is one of the key crucial elements in the movie, and it delivers in every sense. Jerome Robbins, who also conceived the play, was employed as the choreographer and does a fantastic job. The fight scenes are elegantly played out with special attention paid to every single kick and punch. One special scene, the performance of Cool, is an absolute masterpiece. This dance number, nearly four minutes long, is one of the most memorable in the film.

The music in the film is both memorable and deliberate, uniquely setting the mood for each scene. Although one minor complaint is that the placement of the songs in the movie is sometimes anti-climactic. Some poignant scenes are unexpectedly cut short when characters randomly seem to break out in song, which dampens the viewer’s emotional response. Despite these shortcomings, the music is still beautifully orchestrated and the lyrics from a young Stephen Sondheim are fresh and unexpected.


The movie shares two directors, both Jerome Robbins and Robert Wise. Due to internal conflicts involving the budget, Jerome Robbins was fired and thus unable to finish the movie. Robert Wise does a fine job on completing it, and it is an acceptable counterpart to Robbins'. There is no clear switch in directors as the movie's tone remains the same throughout.

The film employs creative methods of directing to tell the story. One innovative example happens in the ballroom scene, when the director(s) use a tunnel vision effect to illustrate Tony and Maria against a blurry crowd. It's an aesthetically mesmerizing scene, and it stands as one of the greatest romance scenes in modern cinema.

Another scene, which is set atop a fire escape and has the two star-crossed lovers professing their love for each other in song, is clearly reminiscent of Romeo and Juliet’s famous balcony scene. It was a visionary way of updating a familiar scene to more recent times.

Although there are theatre purists who scoff at the idea of transforming their favorite Broadway show into a movie, West Side Story transitions quite smoothly from the stage to the big screen. No longer constrained by the stage, the film was shot on location on West 61st Street in the heart of New York City. The exterior settings of the film have a convincing urban atmosphere and provide a vivid, metropolitan sense of isolation. Many of the exterior shots were inspired by the cityscapes of many modern American painters and deliver breathtaking backdrops for the action. The interior scenes are of equal merit. Since the interior sets were built six feet off the ground, most make use of low-angle shots which gives a vacuous appearance to the inside environments.

Runtime and Intermission Details

The film was originally supposed to be a two-act, but the idea was cut due to the belief that a break in the movie would destroy the built up tension in the plot. With a runtime of 152 minutes, the movie can seem a bit long in some places, although the story remains thoroughly engaging throughout.  In the original 70mm roadshow release of West Side Story, the intermission was still intact. Prior to the general release in 35mm, Robert Wise decided to cut the intermission. Due to the wishes of Wise, the intermission was withheld from of all releases of the film until the Special Edition DVD version released in 2003, which now gives the viewer the option to play the film with or without the intermission. I personally prefer to watch the film with the intermission, and think it could have benefitted by having it introduced earlier in home versions of West Side Story


Much like its predecessor, Romeo and Juliet, West Side Story touches on many social and moral dilemmas that are still as important today as they were back then. Most are easily picked up on, but others are not so easy to spot, quietly intertwined between the flashy dance scenes. One that rarely gets pointed out is the underlying meaning in the Jets song about officer Krupte. 

"Gee, Officer Krupke, we're very upset;
We never had the love that ev'ry child oughta get.
We ain't no delinquents,
We're misunderstood.
Deep down inside us there is good!

Officer Krupke, you're really a slob.
This boy don't need a doctor, just a good honest job.
Society's played him a terrible trick,
And sociologic'ly he's sick!"

The song addresses problems like identity and alienation, both of which are highly potent issues prevalent in youth. These themes are also expressed more resonantly in a quote from Action after a confrontation in Doc's store.

  • Doc: Why, when I was your age...
  • Action: When *you* was my age? When my old man was my age, when my brother was my age... You was never my age, none of ya! And the sooner you creeps get hip to that, the sooner you'll dig us!

One major difference between Romeo and Juliet and West Side Story is that the latter deals heavily with themes of racism and prejudice because the two star-crossed lovers in the movie are of different ethnicities. Unlike other movies that portray rival gangs, neither gang is portrayed negatively or in a bad light. There is no apparent "good" or "bad" group; they're both shown in an empathetic and completely human manner. The reason for the gangs despisal of each other is also never addressed. This is symbolic of the film's anti-prejudice and anti-violence themes.

"All of you! You all killed him! And my brother, and Riff. Not with bullets or guns, [but] with hate" - Maria 

At the anagnorisis at the end of the film, the characters realize that there's no real reason to be fighting, that their initial prejudices were incorrect, and that senseless deaths resulted because of it. And just as in Romeo and Juliet, both groups are joined together at the end because of a tragedy.

Ending and Credits

The film ends with a profound wide-shot of the characters musing over Tony’s corpse lying on the concrete. The scene slowly dissolves into an ending title and then reemerges into the credit sequences. The film credits are tactfully superimposed as graffiti on various urban objects. The credit sequences are a pleasure to watch as the camera slowly pans over dilapidated urban scenes before finally halting on a line of writing scribbled on a brick wall or street sign. The entire scene is set to a symphonic version of “I Feel Pretty” which adds a gentle timbre and marks the satisfying end to a compelling film.


West Side Story is not without its flaws. It has its goofs, feels rather long for a musical, and is, at times, anti-climactic. But its flaws are easily overlooked. In the end, West Side Story is a stunning film experience. It's a classic. It's a masterpiece. It's a must-see, not only for fans of musicals, but for fans of films in general.


IMDB (The Internet Movie Database)

Becker, Lynn. "Time Regained - West Side Story in 70mm." Repeat. 27 December 2008

Chace Audio by Deluxe Newsletter. "Original 6-track Mix Recovered and Restored for West Side Story." Chace Audio. February 2010 <>

Amazon (, Inc.)

Janero, Richard. The Art of Being Human - 9th ed. p. 281-282

Lyrics for "Gee, Officer Kruptke" from West Side Story - The Official Site

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