It’s Thursday theater greats for today’s installment of Today in History featuring the powerhouse debut of theater legend, West Side Story.
This same day back in 1957 marked the premiere of the theatrical musical West Side Story. It is arguably one of the best musical productions that has ever graced Broadway and other theatres throughout the world.
The musical conceived by playwright Arthur Laurents and choreographer Jerome Robbins mirrored the famous Shakespeare love story Romeo and Juliet. Only that time, the musical featured two rival street gangs battling over territory of the Upper West Side in the 50s. The Puerto Rico gang called The Sharks are taunted by the Jets gang of Polish-American ethnicity. This confrontation would be the first encounter of the musical’s two antagonists, Tony and Maria.
The star-crossed lover theme of the musical tore a page from Shakespeare’s book, closely resembling Romeo and Juliet and the lovers’ plight with the bitter rivalry between the Capulets and the Montagues. Stephen Sondheim’s passion with the musical led to the play being finally produced and shown on Broadway despite earlier struggles with the controversial ending in act two. It’s a good thing that Sondheim brought in producer Hal Prince to back up the musical which in turn proved to be more than a good investment, commercial and artistic-wise.
What got the musical running for about 732 productions were the combined genius of lyrics by Sondheim, musical scoring by Leonard Bernstein, dynamic choreography and conceptualization of Robbins and Laurent’s powerful social overtones found in the core of the musical.
True enough, the classic Broadway musical is still being adapted time and time again.