“Play It Cool Boy:” Facts About West Side Story

West Side Story is a musical by Arthur Laurents, with music by Leonard Bernstein, and lyrics by Stephen Sondheim. Inspired by Shakespeare’s Romeo and Juliet, West Side Story is set in New York in the 1950s and follows two star-crossed lovers from the rival gangs, the Jets and the Sharks. The musical premiered on Broadway in 1957 and ran for 732 performances for which it was nominated for six Tony Awards. In 1961, a film adaptation was released, which was nominated for eleven Academy Awards for which it won ten, including Best Picture. Read on to take a peek behind the curtain to learn more about this iconic musical.

It Was Going To Be About A Catholic Boy And A Jewish Girl

Gangs on the basketball court
United Artists
United Artists

Initially, not only was the film going to be about ethnic backgrounds but religion as well. Also, according to choreographer Jerome Robbins and composer Leonard Bernstein, the project was also going to be called East Side Story when they first started working on it in 1949. In the end, however, they decided that “the whole Jewish-Catholic reference was not very fresh.”

Six years later, at a meeting in Beverly Hills, they came up with the idea to focus on two teenage gangs with one being Puerto Ricans and the other “Americans.” By then, Manhattan’s eastern neighborhoods had been mostly gentrified, so they changed the project to its current title.