Warning: Contains spoilers!
The story of Romeo and Juliet never gets old. Perhaps that’s why West Side Story, the Broadway musical about star-crossed lovers first performed in 1957, still feels poignant 60 years later.
“As powerful and relevant as the theme was in Shakespeare’s time or Elvis Presley’s, it’s also our time,” says Peter Boal (PNB’s Artistic Director). “Finding common ground and shared love and respect is the real message of West Side Story, and it may also be exactly what this country needs right now.”
PNB presents West Side Story Suite, a collection of iconic numbers from the famous Broadway musical-turned-Academy-Award-winning film, April 14—23 at McCaw Hall in BALLET ON BROADWAY (where you’ll also find works by Christopher Wheeldon and George Balanchine). Dive deeper into West Side Story and its legendary choreographer, Jerome Robbins, with these facts and photos.
1. Jerome Robbins was a big deal. He won five Tony Awards (including Best Choreographer for West Side Story), along with two Oscars. He served on the National Council on the Arts, and he received the National Medal of the Arts as well as the Kennedy Center Honors throughout his career. No pressure.
2. Robbins was pretty strict on set. He had a reputation for being a perfectionist; he prevented the original West Side Story cast members from speaking to their rival gang counterparts offstage, in hopes that it would generate an authentic hostility.
3. Ultimately, Robbins’ perfectionism became too taxing and expensive for the producers, who fired him mid-shoot from West Side Story. As challenging as it was to work with Robbins, Rita Moreno (who played Anita and won an Oscar for her supporting role) says cast members were crushed.
“All dancers who worked with him will tell you this very same thing,” Moreno said, “that if he was alive and called right now and said, ‘I want to do a musical with you,’ I would drop everything [for him].”
Robbins nevertheless won an Oscar for Best Director (with Robert Wise) for his work on the film.
4. In the original West Side Story, Maria was scripted to die – just like Juliet. But Richard Rodgers (of Rodgers and Hammerstein) saw the show in rehearsal and suggested that Robbins remove the death scene. “She’s dead already, after all this happens to her,” he said.
5. Robbins restaged the Broadway musical into a ballet for New York City Ballet in 1995. Since then, “Something’s Coming” has been added to the medley.
6. For the NYCB West Side Story Suite staging, Robbins supplemented the cast with a few Broadway singers. Rosalia was played by Kristen Chenoweth!
7. Robert LaFosse, the original Tony for NYCB, helped stage PNB’s West Side Story Suite. Jenifer Ringer, who played Anita, also helped coach PNB’s dancers.
8. We’ve tied an audience element into this show. PNB knows that West Side Story is all about finding where you belong, so we’re asking audience members to share their stories of belonging. Read more!
9. PNB hasn’t performed West Side Story Suite for nearly eight years. Now is the perfect opportunity to see it for yourself!