WHAT’S HAPPENING, BROADWAY FANS! We are only 26 days away from Broadway’s biggest night of the year, the 71st annual Tony Awards. Our TOP 30 TONY AWARDS COUNTDOWN continues playing you some of the best toe-tapping performances from the past telecasts.
At #26 today is one of the most iconic and romantic musicals of all time. A boy and a girl from two rival neighborhood groups fall into a forbidden love that will change their lives forever. This is Leonard Bernstein and Stephen Sondheim‘s legendary musical classic West Side Story on Broadway. The musical also features a book by Arthur Laurents and legendary staging by Jerome Robbins. The show is a modern-day retelling of William Shakespeare‘s Romeo and Juliet.
From the 2009 telecast, Matt Cavanaugh as “Tony,” Tony-nominee Josefina Scaglione as “Maria,” Tony-winner Karen Olivo as “Anita,” and the cast perform the show’s iconic “DANCE AT THE GYM” scene (where “Tony” and “Maria” first meet).
West Side Story was originally conceived in 1947 when Jerome Robbins told Leonard Bernstein and Arthur Laurents about doing a contemporary retelling of ROMEO & JULIET. The original script was completely different from the verses that we know now about the show. It was actually set during the Passover-Easter time with the original rival gangs being Irish Catholic “Jets” and the Jewish “Emeralds” living on the Lower East Side (originally conceived as EAST SIDE STORY). After that original script was completed, Laurents and the team realized that there have already been a few plays with that same theme, including ABIE’S IRISH ROSE. The project was canceled and put back on the shelves. In addition, Laurents, Robbins, and Bernstein went their separate ways. Five years later, the three reunited on another project but decided to go back to EAST SIDE STORY by adding a fourth member of the team….Stephen Sondheim. One day in Los Angeles, the four came across stories in the newspaper about a group of juvenile delinquents and decided to change the setting to LA. However, Laurents said to keep it in New York City getting used to the life of the Puerto Rican immigrants and Harlem residents, instead of Mexican Americans and Olvera Street. At the same time, Jerome Robbins was familiar with Latin music and was stoked when he heard they would use that music style in the story. The team went back to NYC and changed everything, making the story the way we all know it featuring the American “Jets” and Puerto Rican “Sharks” of the Upper West Side.
The show officially opened on Broadway in 1957 (following a smash sold-out-of-town run in Washington, D.C.) at the Winter Garden Theatre for 732 performances. The cast originally starred Larry Kert as “Tony,” Carol Lawrence as “Maria,” and Tony-winning legendary Chita Rivera in her breakout role as “Anita.” It was nominated for 6 Tony Awards in 1958, winning only 2 including Best Choreography (by Jerome Robbins). Following its original Broadway run, WEST SIDE STORY went on to wow audiences around the world.
It was later revived twice on Broadway starting in 1980 playing Broadway’s Minskoff Theatre for 333 performances. That cast starred Ken Marshall as “Tony,” Josie de Guzman as “Maria,” and Debbie Allen as “Anita.” It was nominated for 3 Tonys that year including Best Revival of a Musical, but lost in all of its categories.
The most recent revival played Broadway’s Palace Theatre for 775 performances. This cast featured (as mentioned) Matt Cavanaugh, Josefina Sacglione, and Karen Olivo. For this revival, the production was well known for including translated dialogue and lyrics into Spanish by Tony-winner Lin-Manuel Miranda. It was nominated for 4 Tony Awards winning only 1 for Best Featured Actress in a Musical (for Karen Olivo).
WEST SIDE STORY also became a worldwide hit when the iconic film version was released in 1961 starring Richard Beymer as “Tony,” the late Natalie Wood as “Maria,” and the legendary Rita Moreno as “Anita.” It received critical acclaim during its opening week, receiving 11 Academy Award nominations and winning 10, including Best Picture. The film also made history as the only Musical movie ever to receive the most Oscar nominations.
FUN FACT: The film version of WEST SIDE STORY was filmed in the area of what a few years later was torn down to become Lincoln Center.
Doesn’t this musical make you wanna “MAMBO”?!!!