When West Side Story premiered at National Theater on August 19, 1957, and on Broadway at the Winter Garden Theater on September 26, 1957, no one knew that this seminal musical would resonate with audiences for more than half a century.
The genesis of the piece goes back to 1949, when Jerome Robbins suggested creating a musical adaptation of Shakespeare’s Romeo and Juliet to Leonard Bernstein. The original idea was to set it in the slums of the lower east side of Manhattan during a week when Passover and Easter celebrations coincided. During the ensuing years, the amazing creative team that would ultimately bring the show to life came together, the idea was changed to a turf battle between gangs, the setting moved to the west side (ironically in an area that would become Lincoln Center), and the rest?
Well, the rest is history.
Countless revivals, new productions in many languages, and an incredible movie version have kept West Side Story in front of audiences since its inception in 1957. While the show itself is a theatrical piece of brilliance, the music and lyrics — pairing two masters, Leonard Bernstein and Steven Sondheim — are by themselves sheer beauty.
And, none of it would have been possible without legendary producer and director Harold (Hal) Prince.
As we mark the Bernstein Centennial (hashtag #Bernsteinat100) there is perhaps no better place to enter than through this work that has maintained a place of honor in so many orbits. West Side Story, is not only a great Broadway musical, it is also a heart-wrenching movie, and a treasure trove of music that has been recorded and rerecorded through the decades, including the amazing studio recording that Maestro Bernstein himself conducted in 1984.
Welcome to a world of hope — Somewhere, here and now: the world of West Side Story.
(Updated, May 15, 2018)