West Side Story, with a book by Arthur Laurents, music by Leonard Bernstein, lyrics by Stephen Sondheim and conception and choreography by Jerome Robbins, is a classic re-telling of Shakespeare’s Romeo & Juliet. Its backdrop is the ethnic, working-class Upper West Side neighbourhood of New York in the mid-1950s. The show explores the violent rivalry between two street gangs: the Jets, white New Yorkers and the Sharks, Puerto Rican immigrants. The male protagonist, Tony, a former Jet and best friend of their leader Riff, falls in love with Maria, the younger sister of the Sharks’ leader, Bernardo. Prejudice and pride fuel a gritty violence which ultimately ends in tragedy.
The incredibly intricate score and extended dance sequences bring light and shade to this musical, with well-known stand-outs like Maria, America, Somewhere, Tonight, I Feel Pretty, and Gee, Office Krupke among many others.
The show’s creative lens on social strife marked a turning point in American musical theatre, with themes of prejudice, family, love and neighbourhood rivalry.