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26 days to go

26 September 1957 saw the first performance of Westside Story, a musical set in 1950s New York, but based on the story of Romeo and Juliet.

Even if you’ve never seen Westside Story, you’re sure to recognise some of the famous songs that are part of it, 'Maria', 'America', 'I Feel Pretty' and 'Tonight' to name but a few. The American composer Leonard Bernstein wrote the music for the musical in collaboration with Stephen Sondheim, of Follies and A Little Night Music fame, and choreographer Jerome Robbins.

Westside Story does not involve warring families as in Romeo and Juliet, but rival street gangs, the American Jets, and the Puerto Rican Sharks, a conflict that was very real at the time and a decidedly controversial topic for a new musical. The character of Romeo becomes Tony, a Jet, and that of Juliet, Maria, a Shark; Mercutio becomes Tony’s friend Riff, and Tybalt, Maria’s brother Bernardo. The story of their meeting at a dance (a ball in Romeo and Juliet), their love and the conflict between their gangs (or families), sticks very closely to that of Romeo and Juliet, culminating in a show down between the rival gangs and Tony’s death.

Throughout, the jazzy and exciting music is infused with Latino rhythms and dissonant harmonies. Jerome Robbins, the choreographer, was involved in all aspects of the musical. Robbins was also a ballet choreographer and BRB performs his ballet Fancy Free, for which Bernstein also wrote the music. This ballet eventually became the hugely successful musical On the Town, starring Gene Kelly and Frank Sinatra. The one-act ballet briefly tells the story of three sailors on shore leave in New York. They visit a bar where they meet three young women, and spend the evening competing for their attention. Click on the thumbnails below to see some photos of Fancy Free:



In 1961, Westside Story was made into a hugely successful film starring Natalie Wood, Richard Beymer, Russ Tamlyn, Rita Moreno and George Chakiris, and directed by Jerome Robbins. At the time, Hollywood was famous for its successful stage to screen adaptations and Westside Story was no exception. It won numerous awards including several Oscars, and is still available on DVD today.



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