Theatre / West Side Story

"There's a place for us,
A time and place for us.
Hold my hand and we're halfway there.
Hold my hand and I'll take you there
Somehow, someday, somewhere!"

A 1957 Broadway musical with music composed by Leonard Bernstein and lyrics written by Stephen Sondheim, and its 1961 film adaptation. A Setting Update adaptation of William Shakespeare's Romeo and Juliet.

It may seem Older Than Steam, with more than a few elements that you may recognize from other works. It is also a great example of Seinfeld Is Unfunny, with many modern audiences not understanding why it was such a groundbreaking musical in its time. It is recognized as the leader in using dance to further the plot, thanks to Jerome Robbins' choreography, and is also recognized for portraying minority characters (relatively) positively, using vulgar language and slang, and not being a particularly feel-good musical.

Two gangs, one white native born American (Jets) and the other Puerto Rican immigrant (Sharks), are fighting over territory on Manhattan's West Side when Tony, a member of the Jets, falls in love with Maria, the younger sister of the Sharks' leader Bernardo. Unfortunately for the young couple, they happen to fall in love on the very night the two gangs decide to end their feud in one final battle. Tony manages to persuade the two gangs to reduce it to a one-on-one "fair fight", but when Maria tells Tony to stop the fight altogether, his attempt to intervene results in the leader of the Jets, his best friend Riff, getting knifed to death by Bernardo. In a fit of rage, Tony then kills Bernardo in return.

Act Two begins with Maria finding out about Bernardo's death from her arranged fiance, Chino, who then vows to kill Tony. Tony turns up and they spend the night together. After we find out what happened to the Jets, we meet up with the lovers. Bernardo's girlfriend Anita shows up, and Tony escapes, with a plan to escape to the country. Anita, despite hating Tony for killing Bernardo, agrees to tell Tony to stay at the drugstore he works at until Maria arrives. When she gets there however, she is nearly raped by the Jets that have gathered there. In a fit of rage, she says that Maria is dead, killed by Chino. Tony's boss tells Tony this, and he runs out into the street, calling for Chino to 'kill him, too.' Maria and Tony meet each other in the street, but before they can embrace, Chino steps from the shadows and kills Tony. Maria denounces both sides of the conflict for their part in Tony's death, and for how "we all killed him," not with guns, not with knives, but with hate. Thoroughly heartbroken, the Jets and Sharks together carry out Tony's body. The End.

Notable for some of the most famous songs in musical theater, such as "Tonight," "America" and "I Feel Pretty", with music by Leonard Bernstein and lyrics by Stephen Sondheim. The movie adaptation, directed by Robert Wise and Jerome Robbins and starring Natalie Wood as Maria, won a whopping 10 Academy Awards, including Best Picture.

This production contains examples of:

  • Accidental Murder: In the fistfight-that-wasn't.
  • Actually Pretty Funny: Riff laughs at Bernardo's request for Lieutenant Shrank to translate his dressing-down into Spanish.
    • Also, when Riff orders Anybodys out of Doc's, she leaves, but not without pushing some of the Sharks around. While some of them look shocked, Chino and a couple of the others laugh.
  • Adults Are Useless: It's lampshaded by the stage directions at the end:
    The adults — DOC, SHRANK, KRUPKE, and GLAD HAND — stand alone, useless.
  • Affably Evil: Both Riff and Bernardo are given several Pet the Dog moments, despite being gang leaders.
  • All There in the Manual: The Pocket Books novelization from 1961 gives almost all of the characters last names that were not provided in the play or movie (for example, Maria's last name is Nunez and Tony's is Wyzek).
  • Ambiguously Gay: Anybodys. Although some of her lines could imply she is attracted to men she can be played as a tomboyish young woman, a Butch Lesbian, or a trans boy depending on the production.
  • Angry Mob Song: "Tonight" and the latter half of the "Jet Song".
  • Artistic Title: For the film. A set of abstract graphics, created by Saul Bass, eventually fade into a shot of the Lower Manhattan skyline, followed by a series of overhead aerial shots of NYC streets and buildings.
    • There's also a five-minute-long Creative Closing Credits sequence, also by Saul Bass, depicting the credits on wall graffiti and street signs.
  • Asshole Victim: Riff and Bernardo could both be seen as this.
  • Attempted Rape: Anita is attacked and nearly raped by the Jets when she heads to Doc's to tell Tony to wait for Maria. This angers her and drives her to hate them badly enough that when Doc returns and stops it, Anita tells them that Chino shot Maria, which sets up the Downer Ending.
    • In the stage production, this may be played as harassment without obvious intention of sexual assault, and Anita gets offended by catcalls rather than an actual attempted rape.
    • Alternatively in the stage production sometimes Doc arrives too late to stop the Jets, and interrupts them in the act.
  • Bad Cop/Incompetent Cop: Shrank's the bad cop, a racist who wants the Sharks run out of town but isn't exactly crazy about the Jets either, and who cares most of all about getting a promotion. Krupke's the incompetent cop, never once doing anything successfully.
  • Ballroom Blitz: Very nearly happens, but the cops break it up.
  • Beta Couple: Bernardo and Anita.
  • Blond Brunette Redhead: The three Jets girlfriends who dance in "Cool".
  • Bowdlerize: This trope mostly appears in the movie version, as the infamous Hays Code was still in effect, though slightly less so in 1961. Anita's lines in "Tonight" are changed from "He'll walk in hot and tired, so what / No matter if he's tired, as long as he's hot" to "He'll walk in hot and tired, poor dear / No matter if he's tired, as long as he's here."
    • And in "Gee, Officer Krupke", the line "My father is a bastard / My ma's an SOB / My grandpa's always plastered / My grandma pushes tea" is changed to "My daddy beats my mommy / My mommy clobbers me / My grandpa is a Commie / My grandma pushes tea."
    • And in the "Jet Song" the lines "When you're a Jet / And the spit hits the fan / You got brothers around / You're a family man" are changed to "When you're a Jet / Let them do what they can / You got brothers around / You're a family man." Particularly funny given that "spit" in the original was probably changed from...well, you know.
    • The writers of the movie took the line, "Trusting with our hearts open! With our arms open!" - "You came with your legs open!" and replaced "legs" with "mouth."
    • Furthermore, Stephen Sondheim originally wanted to end the song "Gee, Officer Krupke, fuck you!" but it was changed to "Krup you!" (In his book of the lyrics, he comments that he thought the "Krupp" change was for the better.)
    • In the show, Maria whines when Anita won't make her dance dress sexier, insisting that "it's now to be used for dancing, not kneeling in front of an altar!", implying that it was once her church dress. Anita responds, "With those boys, you could start out dancing and end up kneeling", insinuating either (a) "having" to get married because of sexual activity and pregnancy, or (b) the sexual activity itself. In the movie, this is changed to "dress for praying" and "start out dancing and end up praying", making the implications less obvious.
    • Schrank's taunting of Action changes from "How's the action on your mother's mattress?" to "How's the action on your mother's side of the street?" Not much better but enough to go over the head of some younger viewers.
  • Break the Cutie: Maria and Anita. Chino counts as well.
  • Brief Accent Imitation: In the film adaptation, one of the Jets acts as a doctor with a German accent during "Gee, Officer Krupke".
  • Butch Lesbian: While some of Anybodys' lines imply she's heterosexual or bi, she fits the look, and acts in a comparatively "masculine" manner for her time and place.
    • The character could very likely be a trans boy rather than an actual woman, too. It's something that can vary from production to production.
  • Call-and-Response Song: "America." In the stage version, Rosalia sings about how great Puerto Rico was and the other women sing about how America is better. In the film, the women sing about America's positive qualities and the men sing about its xenophobia.
  • Camp
  • Category Traitor: Maria is pressured to marry Chino simply because they are from the same ethnic group. When she falls in love with an outsider, all hell breaks loose. Interestingly, Chino never gets any Entitled to Have You lines, but that's probably because he's such a minor role in the first place.
  • Chekhov's Gunman: Chino.
  • Colour-Coded for Your Convenience: Purple and red for the Sharks, yellow and blue for the Jets. Most obvious at the dance, but still subtly present in other scenes.
    • White, red, and yellow for Maria, pink and purple for Anita, and blue for Tony.
  • Combat by Champion: How the climactic rumble at the end of Act I was "supposed" to go.
  • Covers Always Lie: A carefree Tony and Maria frolicking down the street on the front of the Original Broadway Cast album.
  • Crapsack World:
    Doc: When do you kids stop?! You make this world lousy!
    Action: We didn't make it, Doc.
  • Cycle of Vengeance: As best as can be determined from each side's self-serving account, the conflict began when the Jets attacked Bernardo the day he moved to the West Side (though the Jets would say Bernardo began it by moving there.) Bernardo created the Sharks to oppose them, but by the time the movie begins, both sides have become virtually indistinguishable, and each is concerned only with vengeance on the other for whatever the other's last act of vengeance on them was. In the reprise of "Tonight," each side sings the line "They began it."
    • They also sing the exact same music on that line, suggesting that the genesis of each gang's hatred is basically identical.
  • Dance of Romance: Tony and Maria, though it is a cha-cha and not the more standard waltz.
  • Dark Reprise: "America" and "Somewhere".
    • Don't forget "Tonight".
  • Deus Exit Machina: In the film, Ice leaves Doc's to go outside and see if any of the Sharks are around right before Anita comes in. Without him around to keep everyone's heads cool, the Jets taunt and assault her.
  • Died in Your Arms Tonight: In the movie, at least, Tony dies as Maria holds him.
  • Digital Destruction: To put it bluntly, every DVD and Blu-Ray Disc has at least one flaw. Most infamously, the Special Edition DVD plays "Tonight" out of sync, and the 50th Anniversary Blu-Ray has the screen turn black during a few seconds of the overture.
  • Dirty Cop: Lt. Schrank only barely holds the Jets in higher esteem than the Sharks. To him, they're all immigrant scum.
  • Distant Duet: "Tonight".
  • Double Entendre: "Hey! I got a social disease!", referring of course, to juvenile delinquency, but the term Social Disease can also mean something very different...
  • Downer Ending: Sure, the fighting's over, but three people are dead. But come on, this was based off of Romeo and Juliet, so it was hard not to see that one coming.
    • If anything, West Side's ending can be considered Lighter and Softer than Romeo and Juliet's.
  • Dramatic Irony: Maria persuades Tony to go to the rumble in order to stop the fist-fight. He ends up killing her brother.
  • Dream Ballet: "Somewhere"
  • Driven to Suicide: After hearing that Chino allegedly murdered Maria in a jealous rage, Tony wanders the streets calling for Chino to kill him as well. Just as Tony sees Maria still alive and happily reunites with her, Chino belatedly obliges his death wish.
    • Shortly after this happens, an incensed Maria grabs the gun and threatens to kill herself after murdering everyone present.
  • Enemy Mine: For all their hatred of each other, the Jets and the Sharks seem pretty unified in their hatred of Shrank and Krupke — when Bernardo mouths off to Shrank, Riff and the other Jets are visibly amused/impressed by this. Later, Bernado and Riff pretend to be friendly when they notice Krupke eying them suspiciously, both gangs do this in full force when Shrank interrupts their war council, and when Shrank insults Bernardo, it's Riff who holds Bernardo back from attacking him.
  • Enter Stage Window: Naturally, considering it's based on the Ur-Example.
  • Even Bad Men Love Their Mamas: All of the Jets appear ready to attack Shrank when he insults their families, referring to them as "tin-horn immigrant scum", and A-Rab and Action in particular need to be held back when he taunts the former about his father's alcoholism and the latter about his mother being a hooker.
  • Expy: Every single character corresponds to one in "Romeo & Juliet", as do many of the scenes and sequences. The most obvious being that Tony is Romeo while Maria is Juliet. The Jets are the Montagues, the Sharks the Capulets, and so on:
    • Characters:
      • Bernardo=Tybalt
      • Anita=Nurse/Lady Capulet
      • Riff=Mercutio,
      • Chino=Paris
      • Doc=Friar Laurence
      • Action=Sampson
      • A-Rab=Abraham
      • Baby John=Benvolio
      • Shrank=Prince Escalus
    • Scenes/Storylines:
      • Both works open with a fight between the two rival groups.
      • Juliet's betrothal to Paris=Maria's engagement to Chino
      • Juliet's debut party=Maria's first dance
      • Romeo & Juliet's balcony scene=Tony & Maria's fire escape scene
      • Romeo & Juliet's elopement=Tony and Maria acting out a wedding
      • Tybalt killing Mercutio=Bernardo killing Riff
      • Romeo killing Tybalt=Tony killing Bernardo
      • Friar Escalus having to be quarantined thus unable to tell Romeo that Juliet's death is faked, leading to Romeo's suicidal response=Anita being assaulted by the Jets and thus lying about Maria's death, leading to Tony begging Chino to kill him.
  • Extremely Short Timespan: Starts on Friday afternoon and ends on either very late Saturday night or very early Sunday morning. Considering everything that happens, that is one hell of a weekend.
  • Final Love Duet: "Somewhere" reprise.
  • Freudian Couch: During "Gee, Officer Krupke".
  • Freudian Excuse: "Gee, Officer Krupke" begins with this, but eventually subverts it with an admission that the Jets really just aren't interested in honest work.
  • Gang of Hats: Both gangs have their own dance style.
  • Getting Crap Past the Radar: "Gee, Officer Krupke; Krup you!" note 
  • Greaser Delinquents: Both the Jets and the Sharks are full of this type of character. The Jets portray the east coast version, being entirely Irish and Italian youths, whereas the Sharks are the west coast version, being mainly Puerto Rican and Latino.
  • Have a Gay Old Time: "I feel pretty and witty and gay" - only in the movie.
    • In the stage play, that number takes place at night; "I feel pretty and witty and bright/And I pity any girl who isn't me tonight".
  • The Hero Dies: Tony himself at the end.
  • Herr Doktor: One of the Jets briefly pretends to be one in "Gee, Officer Krupke".
  • Hypocrite: Shrank referring to the Jets as coming from "tin-horn immigrant scum" when he himself is likely the descendant of immigrants.
  • "I Am" Song: "Jet Song"
  • The Ingenue: Maria, initially. When Tony asks her if she's "making a joke" in their Love at First Sight moment, she replies, "I have not yet learned how to joke that way." (i.e. she is too inexperienced to be anything but sincere). Her family is very concerned with protecting her, especially from 'a boy like that' who only 'wants one thing.' Her naive expectation that love-struck Tony can stop the rumble has tragic consequences for everyone.
  • In It For Life: "When you're a Jet you're a Jet all the way, from your first cigarette 'til your last dying day."
  • "I Want" Song: "Something's Coming" and "Somewhere"
  • Intermission: The play ends Act I after the rumble, while Act I of the movie ends after the war council. However, some prints of the movie (including all of the VHS tapes, laserdiscs, and pre-2003 DVDs), don't have an intermission at all, since director Robert Wise felt that it broke the tension.
  • Lampshaded Double Entendre: The chance to exaggerate the line "Cause no one wants a fella with a social disease!" in 'Gee, Officer Krupke' is passed over in the movie, but in stage productions, actors will sometimes do a suggestive shuffle on the floor, cover their crotches, or whatever other creativity the choreographer comes up with. Especially common in high schools, of course.
  • Laser-Guided Karma: The deaths of Riff and Bernardo could be seen as this.
  • Lipstick and Load Montage: In the reprise of "Tonight" in The Movie, Anita has a L&LM song while the gangs prepare for the rumble.
  • Location Song: "I Like To Be In America", where the women sing how they like the USA better than Puerto Rico and the men naming all the bad things about the USA.
  • Love Across Battlelines: Tony and Maria.
  • Love at First Sight: Just in case you didn't get it, the filmmakers made the rest of the dancers hazy, making sure that only Tony and Maria were in focus.
  • Malt Shop: Doc's Drugstore.
  • Massive Multiplayer Ensemble Number: "Tonight".
  • Meddlesome Patrolman: Officer Krupke.
  • Mob War
  • Mood Whiplash: in the original stage play, "I Feel Pretty" takes place right after the rumble and just before Maria learns Tony killed Bernardo. "Gee, Officer Krupke" also takes place after the rumble. These were moved to before the rumble in the film.
    • That being said, the movie still has a little bit of mood whiplash after the rumble. It cuts from Riff and Bernardo lying dead, to Maria dancing wistfully on a rooftop. Since this dance only lasts a minute at most, until Chino appears to deliver some tragic news, the amount of mood whiplash still feels significantly smaller than it did in the play.
    • Also applies to the "Gee, Officer Krupke" and "Cool" songs. In the stage version, the very sinister, serious "Cool" plays before the war council, whereas the comical "Gee, Officer Krupke" plays right after the rumble; the film reverses their placement. Stephen Sondheim has put out there that he prefers the play's placement of these songs.
  • Moral Myopia: Tony and Maria are respectively the only members of the Jets and the Sharks who show any sympathy for the other side.
  • My Country Tis of Thee That I Sting: "I Like To Be In America" is partially a Patriotic Fervor song as well as a song that is critical of the USA. The Puerto Rican women all prefer New York to Puerto Rico, while their men are far more critical. Yes, the song is sung by Puerto Ricans, but it was written by an American, Stephen Sondheim.
    Anita: Lots of new housing with more space
    Bernardo: Lots of doors slamming in our face.
    Anita: I'll get a terrace apartment.
    Bernardo: Better get rid of your accent.
    Anita: Life can be bright in America!
    Bernardo: If you can fight in America!
    Anita: Life is all right in America!
    Bernardo: If you're all white in America!
  • My God, What Have I Done?: Tony, after killing Bernardo. Bernardo himself after killing Riff.
    • Everyone after Tony dies and Maria chews them all out.
  • My Sister Is Off-Limits!
  • Never Bring a Knife to a Fist Fight: Averted. They do. And two main characters get killed off.
  • Nice Job Breaking It, Hero!: Tony successfully stops an all-out war with knives and guns, by suggesting that they merely have the strongest of the two sides fistfight. It seems like nothing worse could happen than a broken nose or two. But then Maria objects even to this, saying that any fighting is bad, and although Tony can see it leading nowhere nice to stop them, he does it because he loves her. Fast-forward. Rather than a simple fistfight, three people are dead, one is arrested and will most likely be hanged for murder, the two gangs hate each other even more (until they reconcile), and Maria survives the movie.
  • Not So Different: After the cops breaks up the first brawl between the Jets and Sharks, both groups decide to take time to Troll the cops. The ironic thing being both groups were laughing at one another's jokes.
  • One of the Boys: Anybodys tries to be this, with limited success.
  • Only Sane Man: Doc sees that the events are spiraling into mayhem, and is increasingly frustrated by his inability to affect anything.
  • Opening Ballet: Used to communicate the relationship between the Jets and the Sharks.
  • Parental Abandonment: Heavily implied with Riff.
  • Poirot Speak: The Puerto Ricans litter their English with this. For examples, "por favor?", "una poca", and "si".
    • Averted in the current revival, in which both the songs "I Feel Pretty" and "A Boy Like That/I Have A Love" are both sung entirely in Spanish, in addition to most scenes featuring only the Sharks being spoken in Spanish.
    • Due to the Spanish words not quite fitting the music, the songs were changed back into English in August 2009, but the spoken scenes remain in Spanish. This reaction could possibly have been avoided if they had displayed subtitles for the audience.
  • Pragmatic Adaptation: The Movie is a very intact adaptation of the stage show, but song placement is shuffled around, to excellent effect. "Gee, Officer Krupke" and "I Feel Pretty" were both moved to Act I, which is lighter and more fun in tone. "Cool," an edgy and angry song, was moved into the similarly tense and dark Act II, averting the show's Mood Whiplash.
  • Politically Incorrect Villain: Lieutenant Shrank.
  • Poor Communication Kills: Boy did it ever here.
  • The Power of Hate: Anita, after her near-gang rape.
    "Bernardo was right. If one of you was lying in the street bleeding, I'd walk by and spit on you."
    • Maria reveals she finally understands this when she raises her gun.
  • Rabid Cop: Shrank can run into this trope at times, especially when he shows himself willing to beat up the kids.
    Let him go, buddy boy. Let him go. One of these days, Action, there ain't gonna be nobody to hold you back.
  • Roaring Rampage of Revenge: Tony killing Bernardo after the former kills Riff, the ensuing Jets/Sharks fight, and Chino ultimately killing Tony at the end could be seen as this.
  • Say My Name: "Maria," of course.
  • Screw the Rules, I Make Them!: "Yeah, yeah, 'It's a free country, you got no right.' Well, I got a badge. What do you got?"
  • Sexy Discretion Shot: At the end of "Somewhere", Tony and Maria embrace passionately and sink from view. By the time the scene fades back in, it's pretty obvious what's happened.
  • Shave and a Haircut: "Gee Of-fi-cer Krup-ke, Krup You!"
  • Shipping Torpedo: Anita tries to sink Tony/Maria because she believes Tony is a dangerous, murderous boy who will break Maria's heart.
  • Slap-Slap-Kiss: Anita and Bernardo clearly love each other, but trade barbs quite frequently.
  • Society Is to Blame: "Gee, Officer Krupke".
  • The Song Before The Storm: Again, "Tonight".
  • Spared by the Adaptation: Juliet and Paris both die in Romeo and Juliet, but their respective counterparts, Maria and Chino, survive here.
  • Spicy Latina: Anita.
  • Taglines: For the movie version, the original poster boasted, "The screen achieves one of the great entertainments in the history of motion pictures", while re-release trailers proclaimed, "Unlike other classics, West Side Story grows younger."
  • Take It to the Bridge: The rumble at the underpass.
  • The Team Wannabe: Anybodys.
  • Theme Tune Cameo: When Anita arrives at the drugstore, the jukebox is playing the "Mambo" music. Also, as Doc comes downstairs, Tony whistles "Maria" to himself.
  • Tenor Boy: Tony.
  • Those Two Guys: Lieutenant Schrank and Officer Krupke.
  • Tomboy: Anybodys.
  • Totally Radical: The Jets sing and speak in a mixture of real 50s slang and some the writer made up. It still sounds silly. Apparently slang that was never actually popular slang can't become dated slang. Pow, Daddy-O!
  • A Tragedy of Impulsiveness: The entirety of the Cycle of Revenge is this. In particular, Tony's murder of Bernardo.
  • Truce Zone: The school gym is neutral territory for both gangs.
  • Uncommon Time: "America" alternates between 6/8 and 3/4 time. Conducting this piece is a common exercise for undergraduate music students.
  • Unusual Euphemism
  • When I Was Your Age...
    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 you! The sooner you creeps get hip to that, the sooner you'll dig us.
  • White Gang-Bangers: By today's standards. Back when it was written, the Polish, Italian, and Irish were white by skin color, but not considered "white" enough to mix with the rest of Anglo-American society, partly due to anti-Catholic bias.
  • Wide-Eyed Idealist: Glad Hand, who tries and fails to get the gangs to befriend each other.
  • Worthy Opponent: Riff considers the Sharks to be this and stresses to the Jets that they can't take them lightly if they're going to challenge them to a rumble.