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Thursday, March 19, 2009

West Side Story

Opening on Broadway tonight is the eagerly anticipated revival of the Leonard Bernstein/Stephen Sondheim/Jerome Robbins musical West Side Story. (For a good analysis from one of the preview performances, check out Rob Snyder’s commentary over at the blog Greater New York.)

A couple of interesting facts about the musical:

  •   When Leonard Bernstein and Jerome Robbins first began discussing an adaption of Romeo and Juliet in the early 1950s, their first thought was to examine the tensions between Catholics and Jews on the Lower East Side. Early drafts were titled East Side Story and the action took place around Easter and Passover.

  •  When the decision was made to concentrate instead on conflicts between the Puerto Rican immigrants who were coming to New York in great numbers, the action shifted to the west side neighborhood of San Juan Hill and West Side Story was born. Most of San Juan Hill was leveled to create the Lincoln Center for the Performing Arts, but prior to demolition some shots were taken for the opening of the 1961 film version of the musical.

  • West Side Story was being written at the same time as Candide and Bernstein ended up swapping tunes between the two. According to, the melodies for “One Hand, One Heart” and “Gee, Officer Krupke,” were both lifted from Candide while a duet originally planned for Tony and Maria ended up in Candide as “Oh, Happy We.”

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