West Side Story by Leonard Bernstein


West Side Story by Leonard Bernstein (music), Arthur Laurents and Stephen Sondheim (lyrics). 2009 revival
Spanish lyrics by Linn-Manuel Miranda
West Side Story is a top contender for the best-known musical of time. Before it premiered in 1957, composer
Bernstein, lyricist Sondheim, and book write Laurents originally set Jewish and Italian communities against one
another in this adaptation of Shakespeare’s Romeo and Juliet. The changing demographics of the West Side
(where Lincoln Center Theatre and the Metropolitan Opera is today) moved them to instead create a gang of
Irish and Italian boys to pit against a group of newly arrived Puerto Ricans. Many of the songs are considered
an essential part of the musical theater canon: “Somewhere,” “Tonight,” “I Feel Pretty,” “Maria,” “Cool,” and
Sandoval-Sanchez’s reading of West Side Story interprets a strong undertow of racism against Latinx,
particularly Puerto Rican, men and women within the musical – this can range from an ignorance to the fact
that Puerto Ricans are actually Americans to the fight for space within a community (echoing in the current
battle against gentrification in New York City) to the naming of the gangs – the Sharks (animals, cannibalistic,
savage) and the Jets (technology, wealth, aerospace, “cool”). How does West Side Story depict Latinx
characters? Think about Maria and Anita in comparison with Tony, for example, or Bernardo, leader of the
Sharks, and Riff, leader of the Jets. Use examples (lyrics, lines, moments in the videos) to support your
“The Dance at the Gym,” as choreographed by Jerome Robbins, is one of the most famous dances in
Broadway history. How does it compare to “The Dream Ballet” from Oklahoma!? Does each dance evoke a
similar emotion in you? Or very different emotions? How would you describe the dancing in this number in
West Side Story? What story is this dance telling?
Listen to “Un Hombre Así” and “Me Siento Hermosa” from the 2009 Broadway revival (YouTube link). Does the
Spanish language lyric change your perception of the song(s)? Does it authenticate the lyric? Does the use of
Spanish help negotiate what can be interpreted as racism against Latinx, particularly Puerto Rican, men and
Finally, take a look at the currently running Broadway revival of West Side Story through the New York Times
article by Sasha Weiss: https://www.nytimes.com/2020/01/22/magazine/west-side-story.html — what
possibilities lie in this kind of radical re-imagining (as with Oklahoma!)? Stephen Spielberg is also making a film
version of the show for release this summer — why do you think there’s a sudden re-interest in West Side
Story? Or has that interest never gone away?

Sample Solution

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