West Side Story Inspired by Romeo and Juliet

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Robert Wise and Jerome Robbins directed West Side Story, a 1961 American musical romantic drama film. The film is an adaptation of the 1957 Broadway musical of the same name, which was inspired by Shakespeare’s tragedy Romeo and Juliet. It has a script by Ernest Lehman.

Plot of West Side Story

In the 1950s, two adolescent gangs fight for power on New York City’s Upper West Side. The Jets, a white gang commanded by Riff, get into a fight with the Sharks, a Puerto Rican gang lead by Bernardo. Officer Krupke and Lieutenant Schrank come and break it up. After an upcoming dance, the Jets decide to challenge the Sharks to a scrap.

Riff wants his closest friend Tony, a Jets co-founder who has since left the group, to compete in the rumble. Riff invites Tony to the dance, but Tony says he has a feeling something significant is about to happen, which Riff believes may happen during the dance. Tony agrees to go after additional persuading. Maria, Bernardo’s younger sister, expresses her excitement for the dance to her closest friend and Bernardo’s girlfriend, Anita. The gangs and their girlfriends refuse to mix during the dance.

When Tony comes, he and Maria fall in love, but Bernardo is furious and orders Tony to keep his distance from her. Riff proposes a midnight meeting with Bernardo at Doc’s pharmacy shop to iron out the rumble’s regulations.

west side story 1961

Maria is deported; Anita claims Bernardo is overprotective of Maria, and the two discuss the benefits of Puerto Rico versus the United States. Tony creeps up on Maria’s fire escape, where they renew their vows to one other. Krupke, who believes the Jets are doing something, pays them a visit and tells them not to wreak havoc. 

When the Sharks arrive, the gangs agree to have the confrontation the next night under the freeway, with a one-on-one brawl. The gangs put up a show of camaraderie when Schrank arrives. Schrank tells the Sharks to leave and attempts unsuccessfully to learn more about the fight.

Anita unintentionally informs Maria about the brawl the next day at the wedding store where they both work. Tony is on his way to meet Maria. Anita is taken aback and cautions them about the ramifications if Bernardo finds out about their connection. Maria persuades Tony to agree to stop the brawl. Tony and Maria daydream about their upcoming wedding.

The gangs make their way to the area beneath the roadway. Tony arrives to put an end to the brawl, but Bernardo opposes him. Riff starts a knife fight because he doesn’t want to see Tony humiliated. When Tony attempts to interfere, Bernardo stabbings and kills Riff. Following that, Tony murders Bernardo with Riff’s knife, resulting in a brawl.

Interesting Things to know

Although Robbins lobbied for Carol Lawrence, the first Maria, to be placed in the same role in the film, the producers decided she was too elderly after watching her screen test. A number of additional Broadway and West End cast members were also included in the film. 

The action was portrayed by Tony Mordente, who played A-Rab on stage, while Bernardo was played by George Chakiris, who played Riff in the London theatrical version. Tucker Smith played Diesel, who was renamed Ice for the film after joining the Broadway musical three months into its run.

Romeo and Juliet have been the subject of at least 24 operas.  The first, Georg Benda’s Singspiel Romeo und Julie, from 1776, omits much of the play’s action and most of its characters and has a happy conclusion. It is resurrected on a regular basis. The most well-known is Gounod’s 1867 Roméo et Juliette (libretto by Jules Barbier and Michel Carré), which was a critical success when originally presented and is still played often today.

Bellini’s I Capuleti e I Montecchi is also revived from time to time, but has been criticised for taking liberties with Shakespeare. However, Bellini and his librettist, Felice Romani, worked from Italian sources rather than directly adapting Shakespeare’s play; in particular, Romani’s libretto for Giulietta e Romeo by Nicola Vaccai. Heinrich Sutermeister’s Romeo und Julia, written in 1940, is one of the later operas.

Wrapping Up

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