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GOOD MORNING BROADWAY FANS! It is the first day of September and it begins a very exciting month as we welcome The Great Bright Way back after 18 months of being shutdown. We are only 25 DAYS AWAY celebrating the return of Broadway’s Biggest Night of the year….. The 74th Annual Tony Awards. After a previous rough year, we at New York Broadway Tours continue to also get us back into the spirit with Live Theater’s return on our TOP 50 TONY AWARDS COUNTDOWN. We have more legendary performances coming your way.
At # 25 on our countdown, we take you to New York City on the upper west side where a boy and a girl from two rival neighborhood groups fall into a forbidden love that will change their lives forever. This is one of the most iconic musicals of all time. Yup, you guessed it. Its West Side Story. The show features an iconic score by Leonard Bernstein and Stephen Sondheim, a book by Arthur Laurents and legendary staging by Jerome Robbins. The musical is a modern-day retelling of William Shakespeare’s Romeo and Juliet.
From the 2009 telecast, Tony nominees Matt Cavanaugh as “Tony”, Josefina Scaglione as “Maria”, along with Tony winner (and nominee again this year) Karen Olivo as “Anita”, and the cast of the 2009 Broadway revival perform the musical’s iconic dance sequence….. DANCE AT THE GYM.
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 tryout run in Washington, D.C.) at the Winter Garden Theatre for 732 performances. Under the direction and choreography of Jerome Robbins, the cast originally starred…
Larry Kert as “Tony,”
Carol Lawrence (later Leila Martin) as “Maria,”
Tony Award winner Chita Rivera (later Carmen Alvarez, Devra Kowin, and Maurel Bently) in her breakout role as “Anita”,
Mickey Calin (later Hank Brunjes, Thomas Hasson, and Tucker Smith) as “Riff,
Ken Le Roy (later Carmine Terra and George Marcy) as “Bernardo”,
Jamie Sanchez (later Erne Castaldo) as “Chino”,
Arch Johnson as “Detective Schrank”,
William Bramley (later Roger Franklin) as “Officer Krupke”
and more.
The original production 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. Under the direction and choreography once again of Jerome Robbins, the cast starred….
Ken Marshall as “Tony,”
Josie de Guzman as “Maria”,
Debbie Allen as “Anita”,
James J. Mellon as “Riff”,
Hector Jaime Mercado as “Bernardo”,
Ray Contreras as “Chino”,
Arch Johnson reprising his performance of “Detective Schrank”,
John Bentley as “Officer Krupke”,
and more
It was nominated for 3 Tony Awards that year including BEST REVIVAL OF A MUSICAL, but lost in all of its categories.
The 2nd Broadway revival happened in 2009 playing Broadway’s Palace Theatre for 775 performances. For this production, it was well known for including translated dialogue and several song lyrics into Spanish by Tony winner Lin-Manuel Miranda. Under the direction of the show’s book writer Arthur Laurents and choreography (recreating Jerome Robbins original staging) by Peter Gennaro and Joey McNeeley, this cast featured…
Tony nominee Matt Cavanaugh (later Matthew Hydzik, Jeremy Jordan, and Matt Shingledecker) as “Tony”,
Tony nominee Josefina Scaglione (later Sarah Amengual) as “Maria”,
Tony winner Karen Olivo (later Natalie Cortez) as “Anita”,
Cody Green (later John Arthur Greene) as “Riff”,
George Akram as “Bernardo”,
Joey Haro (later Manuel Stark Santos and Michael Rosen) as “Chino”,
Steve Bassett as “Detective Schrank”,
Lee Sellars (later Ron Piretti) as “Officer Krupke”,
and more.
It was nominated for 4 Tony Awards, including BEST REVIVAL OF A MUSICAL. It took home only 1 win for Best Featured Actress in a Musical (for Karen Olivo).
Most recently, WEST SIDE STORY returned to Broadway with a brand new unique production. This version was extremely different vs. your traditional production. It’s an abridged and gritty 90 minute version. The story is set in the present day. 2 notable legendary moments were cut consisting of I FEEL PRETTY and the ballet of SOMEWHERE. It was also the first major production to NOT use the traditional original Jerome Robbins choreography. It played the Broadway Theatre for only 77 previews and 21 regular performances. Under the direction of Tony Award winner Ivo van Hove and new choreography by Anne-Teresa De Keersmaecker, the cast of this revival is led by….
Issac Powell as “Tony”,
Shereen Pimenta as “Maria”,
Yesenia Ayala as “Anita”,
Ben Cook as “Riff”,
Amar Ramasar as “Bernardo”,
Jacob Guzman as “Chino”,
Thomas Jay Ryan as “Detective Schrank”,
Danny Wolohan as “Officer Krupke”,
and more.
This recent revival of WEST SIDE STORY was a huge flop and sparked a whole lot of controversy. Not only for its updated production, the production’s producer Scott Rudin received a lot of backlash following recent reports of his tyrannical behavior in the workplace. In addition, there were tons of demonstration protests against cast member Amar Ramasar (who played “Bernardo”) who was denounced a sexual predator following recent reports that went against him for sexual harassment at New York City Ballet. All of this was a huge uproar during the #MeToo campaign.
Today the show is also a popular musical performed in Schools, Community, and Regional Theaters around the world.
Along with its success on the stage, WEST SIDE STORY became a worldwide hit when the iconic film adaptation was released in 1961 from United Artist. In addition, the film had several of the main roles having voice dubs to the principal actors. Under the direction of Robert Wise and Jerome Robbins (who also choreographed the film), the cast starred…
Golden Globe winner Richard Beymer (with Jimmy Bryant’s singing voice) as “Tony”,
the late Golden Globe winner Natalie Wood (with Marni Nixon’s singing voice) as “Maria”,
the iconic Rita Moreno as “Anita”,
Russ Tamblyn as “Riff”,
Oscar winner George Chakiris as “Bernardo”,
Jose De Vega as “Chino”,
Simon Oakland as “Detective Schank”,
and
William Bramley as “Officer Krupke”.
It received critical acclaim during its opening week. The film was nominated for 11 Oscars and took home 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.
In addition to the original 1961 film version, a new film adaptation of the musical from 20th Century Studios is about to make its way to the big screen. The film was originally set to open in Theaters nationwide on December 18th, 2020. However, it was pushed to December 10th. 2021 this year due to the COVID-19 pandemic. Under the direction of the legendary Steven Speilberg, the cast will feature…
Ansel Elgort as “Tony”,
Newcomer Rachel Zegler (who was discovered in a huge casting call beating over 1,000 hopefuls) as “Maria”,
Tony nominee Ariana DeBose as “Anita”,
Tony nominee Mike Faist as “Riff”,
Tony winner David Alvarez as “Bernardo”,
Jose Andres Rivera as “Chino”,
Corey Stoll as “Detective Schank”,
and
Tony nominee Brian D’Arcy James as “Officer Krupke”.
In addition, NYBT Tour guide Michael will also be part of the film. Little cameo in the film. Keep an eye out for him.
We are so looking forward to seeing this timeless recreated both on stage and screen coming up!!
Doesn’t this musical make you wanna “MAMBO”?!!!
Mike Haber
Author: Mike Haber

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