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Leonard Bernstein, musical "West Side Story": a brief summary, the history of creation

Many people rightly notice that all the main storylines have long been invented, and those that offer the viewer again are only a modern adaptation of the existing idea. Most often this is what happens. In particular, this concerns the tragic love story of William Shakespeare's "Romeo and Juliet," which no one has ever exploited as he could. Good among the many adaptations there was a place for truly worthy. This, for example, "West Side Story" by the composer Leonard Bernstein.

The brilliant talent of Bernstein and his comrades made it possible to create a truly grandiose musical on the basis of classical tragedy. In this material, the reader will find information on the hard way of creating a musical and a summary of the "West Side Story".


Several professional professionals of the theater, cinema and musicians were engaged in the musical "West Side Story". Among them was the American playwright Arthur Lawrence, who wrote a script for him. Leonard Bernstein, who was one of the main popularizers of academic music, was responsible for the musical design, he is also considered one of the main authors of the "West Side Story". Also on the musical were Steven Sondheim and Joram Robbins. The first wrote words for him, and the second, being an "Oscar winner" and professional choreographer, put dance numbers for all the main scenes.

The basis of the musical

Based on the classic tragedy of William Shakespeare, telling about the love between a man and a woman from two warring old clans - Montague and Capulets. The work was written back in 1595, and published in 1597-m. This work of Shakespeare, which served as the basis for a huge number of modern love stories, roams from century to century, is altered and mutated with each new generation fascinated by its tragedy.

That's the plot of "West Side Story" in many respects repeats the events of the legendary drama. This fact once again confirms the unique talent of Shakespeare and enables modern generations to feel the new narrative and immerse themselves in it to the fullest.

History of creation

"West Side Story" was an adventurous attempt to adapt Shakespeare's work to modern realities. The main characters - analogues of Romeo and Juliet, were to become members of various religious denominations (Jews and Catholics), and they should be separated by religious prejudices formed in the society.

Due to the availability of other work and plans, this production had to be postponed for an indefinite period. Six years later Bernstein returned to work on the musical, burning with the idea of creating the "West Side Story", but his "setting" lost its relevance, therefore a new idea was developed and the action was moved to a more modern era.

By 1956 the script was ready. It was an interesting and innovative work, which, unfortunately, did not arouse enthusiasm among investors. They were not ready to take such a decisive experiment. As a result, the problem was solved by producer Harold Prins, thanks to which the musical was still presented to the audience.


Since we are talking about the next reincarnation of Shakespeare's novel, before the concise content of the "West Side Story" it is worthwhile to consider in more detail the "setting" (the environment in which the described action takes place).

The events of the adapted history were to occur during a period of enmity between Jews and Catholics, but as work on the musical was delayed, it lost its relevance. Then the team of creators decided to transfer events to the eastern part of Manhattan. At that time, the headlines were full of news of skirmishes between Latin American gangs and descendants of white immigrants. It was this burning issue that became the basis for a new place of action in the future musical.


"West Side Story", based on the immortal work of William Shakespeare's "Romeo and Juliet," repeats all the main plot points of this story.

The plot is built around two street gangs - the "Sharks" and "Rockets" who hate each other and try to keep control of the streets. It all begins with another brawl, which is stopped by local police.

The gang "Rocket" takes the initiative in its own hands and causes the opposite gang to dance a duel. The leader of the gang "Rocket" Riff provoked Bernardo (the leader of the "Shark") and called his best friend Tony to help him.

Bernardo has a sister, Maria, who sells wedding dresses together with Anita (the girl of her brother). As in legendary history, Mary had already been found by her relatives. This is Chino.

At the party gangs compete among themselves, and standing alone Maria and Tony, noticing each other, instantly feel an invisible connection and fall in love. Bernardo, noticing this, was angry and dragged Maria away.

Tony, finally lost his head, finds the house of Mary and sings a serenade under her window. Maria goes to Tony and they confess to each other in love, standing on the fire escape.

Later, the two gangs agree on another duel and decide which weapon will be used. In the end, everyone agrees that they will fight on fists, like a man. The police are trying to find out where the next skirmish will take place, but nothing is known, and therefore there is a fight.

At this time, Tony visits Maria in her store, where she asks him to stop the future battle. Tony is also against constant enmity, so agrees.

Tony arrived at the scene of the fight and asked her members to back out, but it's too late, Bernardo rushes to the leader of the gang "Rocket" and mortally wounded him. Tony, who witnessed the death of a best friend, loses control over himself and kills Bernardo (his lover's brother).

Hearing howls of sirens, members of the gangs run to and fro, Tony is kidnapped by a baby Enibadis, who dreams of joining a Riff band.

Maria learns about what Tony has done, and when he comes to her, he throws himself at him in hysterics. Tony explains everything to her lover, and they decide to run away from the country, despite the fact that Anita is against, so that Maria fled with the murderer of her brother.

At this time, Chino finds a gun and goes in search of his brother's killer to make retribution. In the last episode, all three meet in the candy store at Doc, where Chino kills Maria's beloved. Police come, take Chino, Maria mourns the deceased.

Premiere, criticism and awards

The first time the musical was shown to the general public on September 26, 1957 at the Winter Garden Theater. The musical "West Side Story" was staged 723 times. Critics for the most part left positive comments about Bernstein's new work. The storyline, actors' work and adaptation level were praised in the press.

Alas, the creator's joy lasted only a short time, until it was time to present awards for the best musical. The tragic story of Bernstein was not able to compete on an equal footing with the merry work of Meridit Wilson's "The Seller of Music." As a result, Bernstein's creation won only in one nomination - "Best Choreography". The status of the cult musical was found only after his screen adaptation in 1961, only then the spectators appreciated the enormous work of Bernstein. The film received 10 Oscar awards.

"West Side Story" in Russia

Another feature of the "West Side Story" is the fact that it was translated into Russian and demonstrated in Soviet theaters back in 1965, but it was an independent production. In 2007, after lengthy negotiations, the Novosibirsk Academic Theater nevertheless received the rights to this production. The contract implied not only standard payments to license holders for the demonstration of the musical, but also joint work with the American director and preservation of the original choreography set by Jerome Robbins.

Instead of concluding

If we take into account the fact that West Side Story is still being staged around the world, we can say with certainty that Bernstein and his team were able to realize their fantasies to the full and choose the right atmosphere, since all these years the "setting" And the basic idea did not change at all. The summary of the "West Side Story", set forth above, does not say much about the details and does not convey the emotional tension that is felt when watching a musical, therefore it is worth seeing this magnificent work personally or familiarize yourself with the film of the same name.

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