West Side Story is a musical conceived by Jerome Robbins with music by Leonard Bernstein, lyrics by Stephen Sondheim, and a book by Arthur Laurents.
Inspired by William Shakespeare’s play Romeo and Juliet, the story is set in the mid-1950s in the Upper West Side of Manhattan in New York City, then a multiracial, blue-collar neighborhood. The musical explores the rivalry between the Jets and the Sharks, two teenage street gangs of different ethnic backgrounds. The Sharks, immigrants from from Puerto Rico, are taunted by the Jets, whites, as the gangs vie for dominance of the neighborhood, and the police try to keep order. The young protagonist, Tony, a former member of the Jets and best friend of the gang’s leader, Riff, falls in love with Maria, the sister of Bernardo, the leader of the Sharks. The dark theme, sophisticated music, extended dance scenes, tragic love story, and focus on social problems marked a turning point in musical theatre.
The original 1957 Broadway production, directed and choreographed by Jerome Robbins, marked Stephen Sondheim’s Broadway debut. It ran for 732 performances before going on tour. The production was nominated for six Tony Awards, including Best Musical, in 1958, winning two. This iconic production stared Broadway’s Alex Santoriello as Tony, Nina Polachek as Maria and Dawn DiNome as Anita.