West Side Story Takes The Stage at Westchester Broadway Theatre

Published: Saturday, April 25, 2015 By: Evelyn J. Mocbeichel

There have been a handful of musicals that have impacted our American culture but none are more famous as West Side Story. Back in the 1960s the movie version hit the screen in a phenomenal fashion and the musical score became, to this day, of the most beloved soundtracks of our time. Now theatre goers can enjoy this production at the Westchester Broadway Theatre (WBT) in Elmsford. It opened on April 9 and runs through July 5.
The story is based on a concept by Jerome Robbins and a book by Arthur Laurents, with music by Leonard Bernstein and lyrics by Stephen Sondheim. With these musical geniuses collaborating, it was bound to be an overwhelming hit and award winner.
West Side Story, possibly the greatest musical ever created, was inspired by Shakespeare’s Romeo and Juliet. The musical is set on the mean streets of Manhattan, in the upper west side neighborhood of San Juan Hill, during the turbulent 1950s. West Side Story tells the tale of two star-crossed lovers from different worlds. When Tony, a Jet, falls for Maria, a Shark, all hell breaks loose. Caught between two warring street gangs, the Jets and the Sharks, Tony and Maria, attempt to create a life together.
The dark theme, sophisticated music, extended dance scenes, and focus on social problems marked a turning point in American musical theater. Bernstein’s score for the musical includes “Something’s Coming”, “Maria”, “America”, “Somewhere”, “Tonight”, “Jet Song”, “I Feel Pretty”, “A Boy Like That”, “One Hand, One Heart”, “Gee, Officer
Krupke”, and “Cool”.

Premiering in 1957, starring Mickey Calin as Riff, Larry Kent as Tony, Carol Lawrence as Maria and Chita Rivera as Anita, the musical went on to critical acclaim worldwide. It was nominated for six Tony Awards including Best Musical, but the award went to Meredith Willson’s The Music Man. The 1961 film version picked up ten Oscars, plus a special choreography award for Robbins. The soundtrack, by Bernstein and lyricist Stephen Sondheim, spent 54 weeks at number one in the Billboard chart.

I remember seeing this movie as a teen. At first sight, seeing street gangs dancing to the music, I thought this was an unusual concept for such a serious topic. The storyline was so absorbing, I was quickly transported to the mood of the conflict, and the intensity of the dancing easily brought the audience to the passion of each scene. The same happens