Arranged by Mac Huff
With music by Leonard Bernstein, book by Arthur Laurents, lyrics by the young Stephen Sondheim, making his Broadway debut in this rôle, and incomparable choreography by the great Jerome Robbins, West Side Story brought a completely new look to the American musical. No longer was there the pastoral cosiness of Rodgers and Hammerstein’s Oklahoma, or the colourful exoticism of South Pacific, but instead the audience was offered the sordid reality of New York’s gang warfare, racism and murder.
Although this exposure of the city’s seamy side was not welcome in all quarters, the show was an overwhelming success when it opened on Broadway in September 1957, and in London’s West End the following year. It was made into a very successful film in 1961.
The plot of West Side Story is based on Shakespeare’s Romeo and Juliet. The story is set in the Upper West Side of New York City in the mid 1950s, with teenage street gangs replacing the Montagues and Capulets. In this version the star-crossed lovers are Tony and Maria. Tony is a member of the Jets, a gang of American-born youths. He falls in love with Maria, whose brother is the leader of the Sharks, a gang of first-generation Puerto Rican immigrants.
The gangs fight over territory and eventually Tony is shot in a revenge killing and dies in Maria’s arms. Unlike Juliet, Maria does not kill herself, but rebukes both gangs for the lives lost, and watches as the Sharks and the Jets come together to carry off Tony’s body.
Much of the action of the show is played out in very physical, colourful, rhythmic dance numbers, using the instrumental and rhythmic colour of Jazz and Latin American music to represent the two gangs.
Note: The songs in this suite are not all in the same order as in the musical.
I. Something’s Coming | Tonight
II. Maria | One Hand, One Heart
III. I Feel Pretty | Cool | America
Something’s Coming: Tony feels he has grown out of the gang and dreams of a better future.
Tonight: In the ‘balcony’ scene a fire escape replaces Shakespeare’s more romantic venue for the tryst between the two lovers and the highlight here is this impassioned duet.
Maria is an ardent outpouring of love at first sight from Tony.
One Hand One Heart is sung during a mock marriage ceremony when the two lovers swear that “even death can’t part us now.”
I Feel Pretty: Maria is getting ready for her date with Tony.
Cool: The Jets are gearing up for a street fight.
America: The Puerto Rican girls exchange conflicting views of their lives in New York to the rhythm of the huapango, a Mexican dance.
Somewhere: In the stage musical, Tony and Maria’s desire to find a place where they could live peacefully without prejudice is sung by an unnamed soloist during the ballet sequence. In the film it is sung by the lovers themselves. The theme re-appears at the end of the musical.Composer: Bernstein Title of Musical Work: Choral Suite from West Side Story