West Side Story follows the forbidden love between Tony and Maria, two teenage members of rival street gangs, jets, and sharks. In addition to their gang rivalry, Tony and Maria’s relationship also faces serious setbacks on the streets of New York City. Among its catchy musical numbers, the romantic movie is the most powerful tragedy whose arrest drama did not fail to amaze audiences.
The 2021 movie won ten Academy Awards under the same name and succeeded in reviving interest in the 1961 movie. Inspired by the heart-wrenching story of Tony and Maria, we trace the origins of both films.
Is West Side Story A Real Story?
No, ‘West Side Story’ is not based on a real story. Spielberg’s 2021 movie, a 1961 movie by Robert Wise and Jerome Robbins, is an adaptation of the 1957 Broadway musical of the same name. The music was composed by Jerome Robbins, with lyrics by Stephen Sondheim and a book by Arthur Laurents, a modern retelling of William Shakespeare’s Romeo and Juliet.
The origins of Shakespeare’s play go back a long way, as it was inspired by an Italian story often translated by Arthur Brooke in The Tragic History of Romeus and Juliet.
For music, the play between the Arthur Laurents Montague and Caplet families turned into a feud between the Jets / Sharks and the White Americans / Puerto Ricans, respectively. After composing music in 1957, Jerome Robbins turned it into a 1961 movie with co-director Robert Wise.
Although the movie version set a benchmark for movie music, Spielberg was interested in the original. “We never tried to remake the ’61 movie. We took our inspiration and everything was based on the original source material that was the 1957 Broadway musical,” the director told ABC News.
“When I was 10 years old my parents bought the album for the original Broadway cast album ‘West Side Story. I wore it and memorized every song and it was my favorite concert in my life. My love was that I thought I could bring this thing to life. Love, and my love for Leonard Bernstein, Arthur Laurents, Jerome Robbins, and all that he did to inspire me as a child. “
Although the West Side Story movie’s premise is fictional, Spielberg and screenwriter Tony Kushner insist that the movie represent New York in the 1950s, especially around San Juan Hill, a former major Puerto Rican neighborhood.
The director and writer consulted with people living in their neighborhoods in their 50s to prepare the cast. “It [movie] has to be realistic. It can not be a theatrical musical. It has to be a street musician. It has to feel these stories, these events, and this comedy and this excitement and this tragedy. It’s happening,” Spielberg told ABC News.
Although the music and the main part of the movie are very much indebted to ‘Romeo and Juliet’, the goals and aspirations are very different. Tony explained to THR, “Romeo and Juliet are the sources of the hatred between the two groups on both sides of the same coin. No one knows why the Capulet and the Montague hate each other.”
Kushner said, “The jets and sharks gave a false impression that the West Side story was cowboys and montages. They were not. I think the side story is a tragedy. It’s anti-racist, anti-democratic music. “
As a screenwriter, Tony Kushner rewrote extensively the 1957 music book/screenplay for the movie. “In the [new] screenplay there are some things that are real to what Arthur wrote or the lines that Arthur actually wrote. And then there’s a huge amount of difference. I’m been surprised to find some of all the characters. There is, “Kushner said.
Kushner turned the original musical character Doc into Doc’s Puerto Rican widow. In a fictional setting, the Spielberg movie is a tragedy that critically addresses racial segregation in America. As the director himself admits, the movie reflects its time socially rather than its essence in the 50s. And his ‘West Side Story’ has significance. West Side Story.
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