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Theatre / West Side Story

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"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 Setting Update adaptation of William Shakespeare's Romeo and Juliet, set in New York City in The '50s.

Originally a 1957 Broadway musical presented by Robert E. Griffith and Harold S. Prince and directed by Jerome Robbins, with a book by Arthur Laurents, music by Leonard Bernstein and lyrics by Stephen Sondheim. It is notable for boasting some of the most famous songs in musical theater, including "Maria", "Tonight", "America", "I Feel Pretty", and "Somewhere". Two film adaptations were made, one released in 1961 and the other in 2021.

It may seem Older Than Steam, with more than a few elements that you will probably recognize from other works. It is also a great example of Once Original, Now Common, 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 the choreography of Jerome Robbins, 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 American (Jets) and the other Puerto Rican (Sharks), are fighting over territory on Manhattan's West Side, and frequently have to contend with the police, lead by Lt. Schrank and Officer Krupke. During a dance at the local gym, which the gangs consider neutral territory, Tony, former co-founder of the Jets, falls in love with Maria, the younger sister of the Sharks' leader Bernardo. Even worse, they 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 "fair fight" of one-on-one fisticuffs, 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 implied fiancé, Chino, who then vows to kill Tony. Tony turns up and they spend the night together. 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 properly embrace, Chino steps from the shadows and kills Tony. Grief-stricken 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.

West Side Story was nominated for six Tony Awards, winning for Best Choreography and Best Scenic Design. The original Broadway cast included Larry Kent as Tony, Carol Lawrence as Maria, Chita Rivera as Anita, and Michael Callan as Riff. The show was also produced on London’s West End in 1958, and there were Broadway revivals in 1980 and 2009.

The year 2020 was set to be a landmark for the show, though it was marred by the onset of the COVID-19 Pandemic. In February 2020, yet another Broadway revival was staged by avant-garde director Ivo van Hove, who, for the first time, incorporated entirely original new and modern choreography into the show. It stars Isaac Powell as Tony, Shereen Pimentel as Maria, and Yesenia Ayala as Anita. However, performances of the show were postponed indefinitely less than a month into its run due to the pandemic and sadly cancelled altogether even when Broadway theatres reopened.

This production contains examples of:

  • Accidental Murder: In the fistfight-that-wasn't, Riff ends up accidentally killed by Bernardo. In a fit of rage, Tony then quite-on-purposefully kills Bernardo.
  • Acting Unnatural: A-Rab and Baby John are determined to show 'they ain't scared' when Officer Krupke interrogates them. Their dialogue is so stilted that even Krupke notices something is wrong and decides to run them in. The rest of Jets show up allowing them to escape.
  • Actually Pretty Funny:
    • In the 1961 film, Riff laughs at Bernardo's request for Lieutenant Schrank to translate his dressing-down into Spanish. In the 2021 film, this is replaced with the Sharks serenading Schrank in Spanish, which the Jets also laugh at.
    • At the dance, when Glad Hands asks for the Jets and Sharks to get into two circles - "boys on the outside, and girls on the outside" - one of the Jets quips, "Hey, where are you?" Glad Hand laughs at this.
    • 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.
  • Adaptational Angst Upgrade: In the original play, the Nurse is merely taunted and insulted by the Montagues. She doesn't lose anyone important to her beforehand though . In the musical, Anita is nearly gang-raped by the Jets, adding to the trauma of her lover's death earlier that evening.
  • Adaptational Attractiveness: The Nurse in Romeo and Juliet is implied to be elderly and unattractive, but Anita is young and pretty.
  • Adults Are Useless:
    • The adults fail to do anything at all to stop the conflict between the Jets and the Sharks. It's lampshaded by the stage directions at the end:
      The adults — DOC, SCHRANK, KRUPKE, and GLAD HAND — stand alone, useless.
    • This is pretty much the whole point of the song "Office Krupke," where the Jets mock the attitudes of the adults around them as to why the kids in the streets are all troublemakers.
  • Affably Evil: Both Riff and Bernardo are given several Pet the Dog moments, despite being gang leaders.
  • Age Lift: Juliet's presumably older nurse is now Maria's "same age" friend Anita.
  • 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).
  • Ambiguous Gender Identity: Anybodys, whose transmasculine qualities can be played as a tomboy, a Butch Lesbian, or a trans man, depending on the production.
  • An Aesop:
    • The only enemy worth fighting is Hate. Doesn't matter whose side you're on or what reasons you have, Hate kills Love and everything else that's good. So don't you go helping it along in this world
    • "And there were people who looked up at the sky and ached with loneliness, as they appealed in silence to the stars and the moon. They hoped that someplace, somewhere, someone heard them, that their own little dreams would come true... Some of the wishes came true, but it made no difference to the city because it had been built to endure beyond the lifetime of all the people that inhabited it. That is the way things were. And if things did not change, the way it would always be."
  • Angry Mob Song: "Quintet" features this with the parts about the Jets and the Sharks. While Tony and Maria are singing about how they'll be together that very night, the Jets and Sharks are psyching up and whipping themselves into a frenzy for the culmination of their gang war. The effect creates a stark contrast between the two lovers and the gangs that they associate with.
  • Arranged Marriage: Maria's family expects her to marry Chino, even though she feels nothing for him.
  • Astonishingly Appropriate Interruption: Early in the play, we have this exchange between Riff and Tony.
    Riff: Buddy boy, I am a victim of disappointment in you.
    Tony: End your suffering, little man. Why don't you pack up your gear and clear out?
    Riff: Because your ma is hot for me.
    (Tony grabs his arm and twists it.)
    Riff: No! Because I hate living with my buggin' unclenote  uncle UNCLE!note 
    (Tony releases him.)
  • 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: Schrank'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.
  • Balcony Wooing Scene: Being an adaptation of Romeo and Juliet, of course there's a "Balcony Scene" for Tony and Maria. Due to the urban Setting Update, Maria's balcony is actually a window opening onto the fire escape. He climbs up, they begin a duet, and the world fades away.
  • Ballroom Blitz: Very nearly happens, but the cops break it up.
  • The Bard on Board: Just count how many times we mention Romeo and Juliet on this page. It's not pretending to be anything else.
  • Beta Couple: Bernardo and Anita.
  • Beware the Nice Ones: Tony and Chino both have stronger work ethics and are generally nicer people than the rest of their respective gangs... but mess with their respective best friends Riff and Bernardo at your own risk.
  • The Big Rotten Apple:
    Doc: When do you kids stop?! You make this world lousy!
    Action: We didn't make it, Doc.
  • Bigot with a Badge: The play translates the Reasonable Authority Figure of Prince Escalus to Detective Schrank, an openly classist, racist cop who escalates the situation. At one point he tries to butter up the (white) Jets to encourage them to attack the Sharks, but it's made clear he hates both gangs for being comprised of immigrants. The play accordingly gives his Shaming the Mob speech to Maria, the Juliet analogue. By comparison, his partner Krupke is merely short-tempered and incompetent.
  • Blonde, Brunette, Redhead: The three Jets girlfriends who dance in "Cool".
  • Break the Cutie: Maria and Anita; both lose their lovers, Maria also loses her brother, and Anita is also nearly raped. Tony arguably counts as well, since he loses his best friend, has to face the guilt of killing Maria's brother, goes on the run from the police, and is tricked into thinking Maria is dead before being murdered himself; so does Chino, who also loses his best friend, finds out that his (implied) fiancée is having an affair with said friend's killer, and in the end is arrested for having killed Tony. This all happens to them in just one night.
  • Butch Lesbian: Anybodys's masculine look can be read as this, though their orientation and gender can be ambiguous.
  • 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.
  • Category Traitor: Maria is expected 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. His actions can line up with such thoughts, but it's never explicitly so.
  • Chekhov's Gunman: Anybodys warns the Jets that Chino has a gun and is looking for Tony. Indeed, he shoots him at the end.
  • Colour-Coded for Your Convenience: In the original production, film, and most subsequent productions, it's 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. It's still presented as a better option than the all-out brawl it was going to be.
  • Compressed Adaptation: Romeo and Juliet was already compressed from its sources, but this retelling compresses it even further: the Shakespeare play's timeline is five days, with Romeo and Juliet dying three days after the deaths of Mercutio and Tybalt, but here the timeline is two days, with Tony's death taking place just a few hours after Riff and Bernardo's.
  • Coordinated Clothes: To the dance at the gym, all the Jets wear white ties with a black design that looks like the hand of a clock.
  • Covers Always Lie: A carefree Tony and Maria frolicking down the street on the front of the Original Broadway Cast album.
  • Damn, It Feels Good to Be a Gangster!: The Jets' Song plays this trope straight; the rest of the musical deconstructs it.
  • Dance of Romance: Tony and Maria, though it is a cha-cha and not the more standard waltz.
  • Dark Reprise: "Tonight" during the Quintet and "Somewhere" as Tony is dying.
    • "America" is the 'sarcastic echo' version, with Anita singing a sarcastic counterpoint to Rosalia's sappy longing for Puerto Rico.
  • Died in Ignorance: Just barely subverted towards the end of play, but not soon enough to prevent the tragedy. Star-crossed lovers Tony and Maria plan to leave the city together. As Maria prepares to meet Tony at Doc's in order to put their plan in motion, she is detained by the police for questioning about her brother's death and thus sends Anita to tell Tony that she will be late. Unfortunately, Anita is intercepted by the Jets, who attempt to rape her in retaliation for the death of Riff, and she angrily declares that Maria isn't coming because Chino shot her dead. Despondent at the supposed loss of his love, Tony runs out and goads Chino into killing him... just before Maria shows up to hold him in her arms as he dies.
  • Died in Your Arms Tonight: After being shot by Chino, Tony dies as Maria holds him.
  • 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" has this between Tony and Maria, though the rest of the song is the Jets and the Sharks vowing to rumble, which isn't a duet.
  • Double Entendre: "Hey! I got a social disease!", referring of course, to juvenile delinquency, but the term "Social Disease" can also mean a sexually transmitted disease.
  • Downer Ending: Sure, the fighting's over, but Riff, Bernardo, and Tony are dead and Chino is almost certainly going to prison. But come on, this was based on Romeo and Juliet, so it was hard not to see that one coming. At least the West Side ending can be considered Lighter and Softer than the Romeo ending, since Maria survives.
  • Dramatic Irony:
    • Maria persuades Tony to go to the rumble in order to stop the fist-fight. He ends up killing her brother.
    • After the Jets nearly rape her, Anita says that Maria is dead, having been killed by Chino. Maria is just fine, but the Jets don't know that, and having this information passed onto Tony only escalates the tension.
  • Dream Ballet: "Somewhere", where Tony vows to take Maria somewhere more peaceful than the streets.
  • Driven to Suicide: As should be expected from a Romeo and Juliet retelling, though the way both cases play out is Not His Sled:
    • 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 murder everyone present, then kill herself too. But in the end, she doesn't.
  • Eagleland: "America" tackles this trope head-on, with the girls representing the Beautiful and touting the opportunities and economic prosperity New york offers, whereas the guys lean towards the Boorish, pointing out the systemic racism and segregation that prevents them from realizing those opportunities. The song evens out to positive, but it is contrasted against what is possiby the most Latin-influenced music in an aggressively Latin musical.
  • The Eleven O'Clock Number: "A Boy Like That/I Have A Love". After the death of Bernardo at Tony's hands, in retaliation over the death of Riff, Anita is horrified/furious to discover that Maria has made love with Tony, and shames her for falling in with a white boy, let alone her brother's killer. Maria then shoots back that she loves Tony and he loves her, and that Anita, who loved Bernardo, should understand that once love is in the picture nothing else matters.
  • Enemy Mine: For all their hatred of each other, the Jets and the Sharks seem pretty unified in their hatred of Schrank and Krupke:
    • When Bernardo mouths off to Schrank, Riff and the other Jets are visibly amused/impressed by it.
    • Bernardo and Riff pretend to be friendly when they notice Krupke eyeing them suspiciously.
    • Both gangs do this in full force when Schrank interrupts their war council.
    • When Schrank insults Bernardo, it's Riff and Ice who hold Bernardo back from attacking him—Riff even gives Schrank a Death Glare on his behalf and when Schrank orders the Sharks to leave, Bernardo looks at Riff for the go-ahead and doesn't move until he gives him an "It's ok" nod.
    • Further solidified when Schrank offers to back the Jets up in their rumble against the Sharks and gets turned down.
  • Even Bad Men Love Their Mamas: All of the Jets appear ready to attack Schrank 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/Capulet. More so the former.
      • Anita=Nurse/Lady Capulet. More so the former.
      • Riff=Mercutio/Montague . More so the former.
      • Chino=Paris
      • Doc=Friar Laurence
      • Baby John=Benvolio
      • Schrank=Prince Escalus
      • Krupke=Escalus' watchmen
    • 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 secret marriage=Tony and Maria acting out a wedding
      • Tybalt killing Mercutio=Bernardo killing Riff
      • Romeo killing Tybalt=Tony killing Bernardo
      • Friar John having to be quarantined, thus unable to bring Romeo the message from Friar Lawrence that Juliet's death is faked, leading to Romeo's suicidal response=Anita lying to the Jets and Doc that Maria is dead, rather than delivering Maria's message for Tony to wait for her at the drugstore.
      • The nurse being taunted by the Montagues=Anita being assaulted by the Jets and thus lying about Maria's death.
      • Romeo's suicide=Tony begging Chino to kill him.
      • Prince Escalus's speech blaming both families and himself for the deaths of Romeo, Juliet, Paris, and Mercutio=Maria's speech blaming both gangs for the deaths of Tony, Bernardo, and Riff.
  • Extremely Short Timespan: The main plot starts on a Friday afternoon, and ends either very late Saturday night or very early Sunday morning. That is one hell of a weekend.
  • Final Love Duet: The "Somewhere" reprise serves as an all-too-brief one as Tony lies mortally wounded in Maria's arms. Tony only manages to sing one line before dying, and Maria can't sing the final word when she realizes he's dead.
  • Finger-Snapping Street Gang: The Jets are the Trope Maker and Trope Codifier. Walking down the street while snapping their fingers is their signature trait, and they do it repeatedly, most prominently during "Jet Song"—though at that point they're literally just walking down the street, not threatening anyone.
  • Four-Temperament Ensemble: Tony (melancholic) Maria (phlegmatic) Bernardo (choleric) Anita (sanguine)
  • Freudian Couch: During "Gee, Officer Krupke", this is how the head shrinker is portrayed by the Jets; someone who believes that All Psychology Is Freudian and that all of the Jets have Freudian Excuses, and that they therefore can't be held responsible for their actions.
  • Freudian Excuse:
    • "Gee, Officer Krupke" sees the Jets mocking the concept in-universe. The gang members take turns pretending to be people who think that they have the Jets all figured out, and try to berate "Office Krupke" for not following their advice. However, the end of the song shows that Jets just aren't interested in honest work.
    • Played straight in the show's wider context, though, since both gangs are living in the gutters of New York and have to deal with anti-immigrant bigotry, the Sharks in particular facing constant racism.
  • Friendly Address Privileges: Only Bernardo's sister and close friends can call him 'Nardo. For Tony of all people to address him so familiarly is a Berserk Button.
  • Gang of Hats: Both gangs have their own dance style.
  • Gone Horribly Wrong: Both times when Maria sends someone out on a noble errand, it backfires horribly. She asks Tony to go to the rumble to stop the fight, and he ends up killing her brother in a fit of rage. Later she sends Anita to convey a message to Tony, and Anita, enraged at being almost raped, deliberately mixes up the message, indirectly leading to Tony's death.
  • Grass is Greener: Bernardo and Anita accuse each other of having this mindset in regards to America vs Puerto Rico:
    Bernardo: It's so good here?
    Anita: It's so good there? We had nothing.
    Bernardo: Ah, we still have nothing, only more expensive.
  • Greaser Delinquents: Both the Jets and the Sharks are full of this. The Jets feature white men, while the Sharks are Latino men. The Jets are just not interested in an honest day's work, constantly getting into petty trouble with the law; the Sharks are acting out because they see themselves as victims of American bigotry. Both gangs also can't stand the other, getting into turf wars quite often.
  • Herr Doktor: One of the Jets briefly pretends to be one in "Gee, Officer Krupke". The Jets themselves are making fun of people who think they have a Freudian Excuse to be so bad, and thus portray the head shrinker as stereotypically overanalytical as possible.
  • Hypocrite:
    • Schrank referring to the Jets as coming from "tin-horn immigrant scum" when he himself is almost definitely the descendant of immigrants.
    • Bernardo dislikes the Jets because they treat him and the other Puerto Ricans like outsiders despite the fact they too are Americans themselves. But he also clearly does not want his sister to be with any non-Puerto Rican and repeatedly insults the Jets with ethnic slurs, meaning he's not particularly more inclusive or open-minded than they are. It's very possible this comes from how he's discriminated against by non-Puerto Ricans, but it still stands.
  • "I Am" Song: "Jet Song", where Riff describes how awesome it is to be a Jet.
  • 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."
  • Intermission: The play ends Act I after the rumble, while Act I of the movie ends after the war council. However, pre-2003 video releases (and the 2003 Fullscreen DVD) don't have an intermission at all, since director Robert Wise felt that it broke the tension.
  • Invisible Parents: None of the Sharks or the Jets’ parents are portrayed physically, but they are mentioned and we even hear Maria’s father.
  • Irony: When told that Maria is dead, Tony becomes a Death Seeker, and screams out for Chino to kill him too. He snaps out of it when he sees Maria alive, only for Chino to oblige his death wish a little too late.
  • "I Want" Song: "Something's Coming" and "Somewhere".
  • Knife Fight: The rumble winds up devolving into one of these between the two gang leaders with switchblades, and it ends with both of them dead.
  • The Lad-ette: Anybodys is a girl who desperately wants to be one of the Jets and dresses and acts like one of the boys. She is the only girl not to wear a dress to the dance.
  • 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.
  • Literal-Minded: Played for Laughs when Glad Hand is trying to get the Jets and Sharks to dance.
    Glad Hand: Well, it wouldn't hurt you to try.
    Snowboy: (as he backs onto the dance floor, double over as in pain) Ooh, it hurts, ooh it hurts, ooh! (he stops when he sees Officer Krupke and when Riff warns him to stop)
  • 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 are associated with the Jets and the Sharks, respectively. Considering the two gangs are involved in a feud, it creates lines in the sand and a lot of secrecy as Tony and Maria try to keep it hidden.
  • Massive Multiplayer Ensemble Number: "Tonight". The Jets and Sharks whip themselves into a frenzy in order to prepare for a brutal end to their feud with a brawl, while Tony and Maria sing about how that same night will be the greatest night of their lives as they prepare to escape the violence. And then Anita is signing about getting laid after the fight.
  • Meddlesome Patrolman: Officer Krupke seems to always show up to harass the gangs.
  • Men Are the Expendable Gender: By the end of the story, three men are dead. It's telling that Maria is Spared by the Adaptation, but Riff, Bernardo, and Tony are not.
  • Metaphorical Marriage: Tony and Maria act out a marriage in the bridal shop. As cited above, this is an echo of the scene in the play in which Romeo and Juliet elope.
  • Mob War: Between the Jets and the Sharks. They initially wanted it to be an all-out bloodbath, but Tony talked them into Combat by Champion instead.
  • 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.
    • 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 Sister Is Off-Limits: Bernardo angrily intrudes on Tony and Maria's first meeting.
    "Go home, American. Stay away from my sister!"
  • Mythology Gag: Tony and Maria's whirlwind romance seems ridiculous unless you recall that Romeo and Juliet took place over roughly the same time frame (albeit slightly longer).
  • 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. 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 (including Tony) are dead, one is arrested and will most likely be imprisoned for life or executed for murder, and Maria has to live with her grief. At least it's implied that the two gang's reconcile.
  • Not His Sled: Instead of killing himself like Romeo, Tony is killed by Chino, and unlike Juliet, Maria lives.
  • Oh, Crap!: Riff gets shocked out of his mind when Bernardo kills him.
  • One of the Boys: Anybodys tries to be this, with limited success. Although it's an ambiguous case, as many believe Anybodys is actually a transgender boy, which modern casting often reflects.
  • 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, who lives with Tony and his family.
  • Pet the Dog: No character - even Tony - gives Anybodys the time of day, but once Action (or Ice in the 1961 film) takes over the Jets, he treats her like any other member and calls her "buddy boy", a phrase Riff only ever used with fellow gang members. Anybodys' face lights up.
  • Poirot Speak:
    • The Puerto Ricans litter their English with this. For example, "por favor", "una poca", and "sí".
    • 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.
  • Politically Incorrect Villain: Lieutenant Schrank is openly racist against the Puerto Rican Sharks and favours the white Jets - although he doesn't give them much respect either, as they're all either Polish, Italian, or Irish.
  • Poor Communication Kills: Boy, does it ever. Tony and Maria can't communicate that they want to be together, and so let tensions dictate their actions. The Jets almost gang-rape Anita, leading to her not delivering an important message from Tony out of spite. Finally, Tony himself dies after it's not said about what's really going on, leading to him getting shot to death.
  • The Power of Hate: Anita, after her near-gang rape by the Jets.
    "Bernardo was right. If one of you was lying in the street bleeding, I'd walk by and spit on you."
  • Rabid Cop: Schrank 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.
  • Race Lift: Most of the Sharks, ironically, most obviously the very white (specifically, Russian-American) Natalie Wood playing a Puerto Rican.
    • In the 2020 revival, the Jets are composed of whites and African-Americans—Riff in particular is black—while the Sharks consist of Latinos of all nationalities, not just Puerto Ricans.
  • Rape and Revenge: A rather roundabout example. Following her Attempted Rape (or whatever is was supposed to be) Anita spitefully misinforms the Jets that Chino murdered Maria in a jealous rage over her being with Tony. This ultimately leads to Tony's (who had murdered Anita's boyfriend, which she was in no way happy about) demise.
  • Rape by Proxy: An attempted, possibly just simulated, version during the "taunting scene"; Baby John is lifted up by the other Jets and forced on top of Anita. Many productions portray him as being almost as traumatized by this as she is.
  • "The Reason You Suck" Speech: Maria delivers this to both gangs after Chino fatally shoots Tony saying that every member played a part in all of the deaths because they created the sentiment that allowed it to happen.
  • 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.
  • Schmuck Bait: Several times in the opening sequence, members of the Sharks taunt the Jets into chasing them, only to ambush them with paint, thrown food, etc.
  • 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?"
  • Setting Update:
    • The 2020 Broadway revival changes the setting from the 1950s to the modern day. This results in several differences such as the Jets changing from an all-white American gang to mixed race, including several black members, and the Sharks being immigrants from a variety of Latin American nations, not just Puerto Rico.
  • 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—he's shirtless and she's in a slip.
  • 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. She's not wrong.
  • Slap-Slap-Kiss: Anita and Bernardo clearly love each other, but trade barbs quite frequently.
  • Soapbox Sadie: Bernardo has gained a reputation among the Sharks for lecturing on the inequality of immigrant life. In the prelude to "America", he launches into a rant about how Tony, a delivery boy at Doc's, likely makes twice what Chino does working as an assistant, just because he's Polish; from the knowledgeable, joking reactions of both the boys and girls, it's a speech he's made very often, and they now know it by heart.
    Anita: Oh! Here comes the whole commercial!
    Bernardo: Your mother's a Pole, your father's a Swede —
    Both: You were born here, that's all that you need —
    Anita: [Mocking] "You are an American. But us? FOREIGNERS!"
    Ensemble: "LICE! COCKROACHES!"
    Bernardo: [Defensively] But it's true!
  • Society Is to Blame: "Gee, Officer Krupke" mocks this mindset by having the Jets make fun of all the excuses adults throw around as to why the Jets and other JDs are the way they are.
  • The Song Before the Storm: The "Tonight Quintet", which happens right before a Mob War.
  • Spared by the Adaptation: Juliet and Paris both die in Romeo and Juliet, but their respective counterparts, Maria and Chino, survive here. One of the original drafts of the ending had Maria shoot Chino and then herself after Tony's death, but in the end the creative team decided to let them both live.
  • Spicy Latina: Anita's hot temper and free sexuality, in line with all the stereotyping.
  • Staggered Zoom: Onto one of the youngest Jets as he's painting "Sharks Stink" onto a wall, right before the Sharks catch him.
  • Take It to the Bridge: The rumble at the underpass.
  • Take Up My Sword: When Bernardo stabs Riff, Riff hands his knife to Tony before dying.
  • The Team Wannabe: Anybodys wants to be a Jet, but Riff isn't having it. She still shows up everywhere the Jets do, though.
  • Tenor Boy: Tony. He is, after all, based on Romeo, who by stereotype is incapable of being anything but a tenor.
  • Then Let Me Be Evil: "Gee, Officer Krupke" is the Jets' singing about this, parodying and mocking the courts and social services that they would be run in circles through if arrested: From Krupke to the Judge, from the Judge to the "Head Shrinker", from the Head Shrinker to the Social Worker, then the Social Worker back to Krupke, at each step essentially being given an excuse for someone "more qualified" to handle them without actually offering any effective solution to dealing with their delinquency. So, instead, they fully embrace their behavior and rebel against the system that they believe has failed them.
    Snowboy: The trouble is he’s lazy!
    Joyboy: The trouble is he drinks!
    Baby John: The trouble is he’s crazy!
    A-Rab: The trouble is he stinks!
    Mouthpiece: The trouble is he’s growing!
    Action: The trouble is he’s grown!
    All: Krupke, we got troubles of our own!
  • 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, which is why they avoid starting trouble at the dance.
  • Uncommon Time: "America" alternates between 6/8 and 3/4 time. Conducting this piece is a common exercise for undergraduate music students.
  • Unusual Euphemism: The "Jet Song" uses "buggin'" and "mother-lovin'", as well as the phrase "when the spit hits the fan." Though the writers also used sanitized street language at the end of "Gee, Officer Krupke" ("Krup you!"), they must have forgotten about "schmuck" earlier in the song, which had to be censored on the original Broadway cast recording, even before it was (differently) censored in the movie - without breaking the rhyme in either case.
  • 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.
    Doc: I'll dig you an early grave!
  • White Gangbangers: The Jets are of Polish, Italian, and/or Irish descent. Tony himself appears to be Polish-American, since his real name is Anton.
  • Why Don't You Marry It?: Baby John comments on a comic book he's reading, declaring his love for the main hero (Superman in the stage show, Shazam/DC's Captain Marvel in the film). A gang member (Snowboy in the stage show, Action in the film) irritably responds, "So marry him!"
  • Wide-Eyed Idealist: Glad Hand, who tries and fails to get the gangs to befriend each other. Maria also believes that her and Tony's love can put a stop to the hatred of the rest of the Sharks and the Jets.
  • 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.
  • Young Love Versus Old Hate: Subverted, unlike in the source material: Most of the cast, including the most hateful members of both gangs, are in their teens.
  • Your Mom: Riff teases Tony about his (Tony's) mother early in the show. Schrank later throws a taunt about Action's mother as well.