West Side Story
Based on the play with music by Leonard Bernstein and lyrics by Stephen Sondheim, a gang of European immigrants fights a gang of Puerto Ricans, but a former leader of the white Americans falls in love with the sister of the Puerto Ricans’ leader.
In New York City on a playground Riff (Russ Tamblyn), Ice (Tucker Smith), Snowboy (Bert Michaels), and the other Jets gather and go down a street. Two of them see Bernardo (George Chakiris) and take an orange from him. Bernardo is joined by two youths from his gang, and they take it back. The Jets outnumber the Sharks and get it back. In the playground Riff makes Bernardo give them a basketball, and Riff tells them to beat it. Both gangs dance and run after each other. Baby John (Eliot Feld) paints on a wall “Sharks stink” and is chased by Sharks back to the playground. The two gangs fight each other until Lt. Schrank (Simon Oakland) and officer Krupke (William Bramley) show up and tell them to stop. Shrank asks Baby John who bloodied him. Shrank tells them not to kill each other on his beat. He tells Bernardo and his friends to get out of there and stay away. Bernardo has his gang leave. Shrank asks the Jets to be nice to the Puerto Ricans and warns them if they don’t, he will arrest them. Shrank and Krupke leave. Anybodys (Susan Oakes) wants to join the Jets, but they send her away. Riff says the Jets own the streets, and in a meeting they talk about what to do. Riff says they are going to clean up the Sharks so that they will not come on their turf. He suggests one all-out fight and says they must be prepared. Riff says they can use whatever weapons the Sharks propose. He will tell the Sharks and will take Tony with him. Tony is not there, and they talk about him. Riff and the Jets sing the “Jet Song.” Riff says he will challenge Bernardo at the dance tonight.
Tony (Richard Beymer) is working carrying cokes, and Riff tells him they need to stop the Sharks. Riff insults Tony who makes him cry uncle. Tony opens and drinks a coke. He says that every night lately he has been waking up and reaching out. He says it is like being a Jet, but he says he has had it. Riff asks him to come to the dance tonight at ten and persuades him. Riff leaves, and Tony sings “Something’s Coming.”
Maria (Natalie Wood) asks Anita (Rita Moreno) to make the neckline of her dress one inch lower. Maria asks why she is there. Anita says she should marry Chino, but Maria says he does not affect her. She asks Anita how she feels about Bernardo, and Anita is in love. Maria likes the white dress. Bernardo and Chino (Jose De Vega) come in, and Bernardo hugs his sister Maria who says she must have a good time at the dance tonight.
In the gym the young people are dancing when Bernardo, Maria, and Chino come in. Bernardo introduces his other friends. Riff walks toward him, and they get quiet. Glad Hand comes forward with a policeman and organizes a dance with boys in one circle and girls in the other. Riff and Graziella (Gina Trikonis) start the circles, and then Bernardo comes forward and summons Anita. About a dozen boys and a dozen girls form the circles which rotate in opposite direction. When Glad Hand blows his whistle, they stop; but the boys and girls choose their own partners. Soon the whites are dancing on one side and the Puerto Ricans on the other. They take turns dominating the floor, and Riff does gymnastics during the dancing. Maria and Tony notice each other, and they walk toward each other and dance together slowly. Tony asks Maria if they have met before, and she says no. She says their hands are cold, and he says she is beautiful. Bernardo tells Tony to stay away from his sister. Glad Hand makes them calm down, and Bernardo says they are going home. He has Chino take Maria home. Bernardo walks toward Tony, but Riff intervenes and tells him he wants him for a war council between the Jets and Sharks. Bernardo says they will meet them at midnight at Doc’s.
Tony learns her name and sings “Maria” alone outside.
At home Bernardo tells Maria to go to bed and leaves her room with Anita. They go on the roof, and Bernardo says things will be settled after tonight. Anita complains that their heads may be broken. Anita says Tony is cute. They talk about how immigrants from other countries are Americans but not the Puerto Ricans. Anita asks why they should go back to Puerto Rico, but Bernardo says she has been brainwashed. Anita sings “America” comparing life in Puerto Rico to that in America. She and the girls sing that they like being in America while Bernardo and the boys describe how bad it is in America. Bernardo says it is late, and he asks Anita to meet him on the roof later. She asks him to choose between his war council and her and says she will not wait.
In her room Maria prays and is going to bed. Tony calls to her from the street below, and she comes out on her balcony. He asks her to come down, and she says her parents will wake up. Tony climbs up the ladder, and she reassures her father. They hold hands, and he asks her to see only him. Maria and Tony sing “Tonight.” She asks him to go, and he says he is not afraid. He kisses her goodnight and says he loves her. She asks when she will see him and tells him where she works. He goes down the ladder, and she learns his name is Anton and says she adores him. They sing goodnight, and he runs off.
Some Jets are waiting on the street, and they talk with Anybodys. Riff arrives with Graziella, and he tells the chicks to cut out when the Sharks come. Officer Krupke gets out of a police car and asks why they are blocking the sidewalks. He knows they were cooking something up at the dance tonight and warns them. He leaves in the car. They talk about the cops, and Riff says they give them something to believe in. Riff and other Jets sing, “Gee, Officer Krupke!” about what they would say to the cop, the judge, a headshrinker, a social worker, and Krupke. Doc (Ned Glass) comes out of his store and asks why they are up late. The Jets go into his drugstore. He asks if they are making trouble for the Puerto Ricans. He calls them hoodlums. Bernardo and the Sharks come in slowly, and Riff has the three girls go out. Riff orders cokes for everyone, but Bernardo says they should get down to business. They have Doc leave the room, and Riff and Bernardo sit at a table. Riff challenges them to a rumble, and they call each other names. Bernardo says they accept, and Riff says tomorrow after dark. They suggest places and agree on under the highway. Riff asks about weapons, and Tony comes in. Riff asks Bernardo to make the call. They alternate and say rocks, belts, pipes, cans, bricks, bats, clubs, chains, and then Tony says bottles, knives, and guns. He calls them chickens for being afraid to fight it out with plain skin. He suggests the best man from each gang to slug it out. Riff and Bernardo agree on a fair fight. Bernardo shakes hands and assumes he is fighting Tony, but Riff says they pick their best man and choose Ice. A Jet whistles, and they act normally as Schrank comes in. Doc says hello to him. Schrank is glad to see them getting along. He says he may get a promotion, and the Puerto Ricans will be able to use the playground, the gym, and the streets. Then he insults the Puerto Ricans and tells them to clear out. Bernardo has stood up and leads them out as they whistle. Schrank asks the Jets where the rumble is going to be. Baby John shrugs his shoulders. Schrank offers to lend a hand if things get rough. They say nothing, and he urges them to get smart. He calls them immigrant scum too. He insults A-rab (David Winters) and Action (Tony Mordente), and Jets help them leave. Schrank asks Doc what he would do if he had to keep hoodlums in line. Schrank goes out, and Tony tells Doc that it is going to be a fair fight. He says everything is going to be all right because he can’t wait to see the girl he loves. Tony leaves and walks home slowly.
Maria works in a bridal shop and tries on hats. Three women are working at sewing machines. Maria asks if they can keep a secret. She admits she is out of her mind. They ask what is happening to her. She sings, “I Feel Pretty” and dances while the other three sing, wondering what is wrong with her. They dress her up with a crown. The owner comes in and tells them to get to work. Then she tells Anita to close up for her and goes out. Anita talks to Maria who says she will work some more and lock up. Anita says she has a date with Nardo after the rumble. Maria asks if they are fighting tonight. She asks why they fight, and Anita says they have to get rid of something quickly. Tony comes in the back way, and Anita tells them they are out of their heads. Maria asks if she will tell, and Anita asks what she would tell. She advises Maria to be home in fifteen minutes and goes out. Maria and Tony hug, and she asks if he is going to the rumble. He says he fixed it so that it will only be a fist fight between two of them. She asks him to go and stop the fight, and he agrees to do that. She says he has magic, and he says he has her. She says she will wait on the roof; but he says he will come to her house, or she can come to his house. He says what his mother will say about her. Tony kisses her, and she talks about her parents. She says her father might like him. He asks for his daughter’s hand. She says his mother is getting rid of a son. They use clothing dummies to set up a wedding. They turn to each other, kneel, and say wedding vows. They mime giving each other rings and sing “One Hand, One Heart.” They kiss.
That night the Jets walk in an alley and the Sharks on the roof sing “Quintet.” Anita sings she is going to get her kicks tonight. Tony sings about tonight while working for Doc. Maria sings at her window. The Jets walk in the street and sing about what they will do to the Sharks who are walking on a street also.
The Sharks climb over a fence under the highway, and the Jets come down from the highway. There are about ten on each side. Riff tells the two young men to shake hands, but Bernardo refuses. Bernardo and Ice start to fight with fists, but Tony arrives and calls for them to stop and comes between them. Bernardo says he does not have the guts to fight his own battles Tony offers his hand in friendship, but Bernardo shoves him to the ground. Riff comes between the two fighters and says it is to be a fair fight between Bernardo and Ice. Once again Tony comes between and stops Ice. Bernardo calls Tony a chicken, and Riff comes between them. Tony pushes Riff away and tells Bernardo he does not want to fight. He says there is nothing to fight about, but Bernardo disagrees and tries to provoke Tony into fighting him. Ice pulls Tony back, and Riff knocks Bernardo down. He gets up, and Riff takes off a shirt. Riff and Bernardo pull out knives. Tony tries to stop it, but two Jets hold him. Riff and Bernardo fight, and Riff loses his knife. Riff avoids being cut, and a Jet hands him his knife back. In the fight Bernardo stabs Riff in the stomach, and Riff hands his knife to Tony who stabs Bernardo. This begins a brawl, and they all fight. They hear a siren, stop fighting, and run away. Tony has been wounded in the stomach and crawls over to Bernardo and removes the knife. He calls to Maria, and Anybodys arrives and tells him to get away. She leaves, and Tony climbs over the fence and runs away.
Maria is alone on the roof and dances. Chino appears and admits he was fighting. He tells her there was a rumble. She asks him to tell her, and he says that Tony killed her brother Nardo. She says he lies and runs down stairs after him. She goes to her room and prays that it is not true. Tony comes in, and she pounds on his chest calling him a killer. He says he tried to stop it, but Bernardo killed Riff. He asks her to forgive him so that he can call the police. She asks him to stay with her, and they hold each other. He says he will take her away, and they hug. Tony and Maria sing “Somewhere” about a place for them where they can live and forgive. Tony kisses her.
A-rab sees a police car and finds Baby John who does not want the guys to see him crying. They talk about the rumble. Baby John says he is scared and asks what they will do. A-rab says they will find the other guys. They climb over a wall and find other Jets. They talk about going home, and they say Tony was great. Riff’s girlfriend Graziella is crying. They talk about finishing it, and Baby John asks if they have had enough. A man from a window tells them to go home where they belong. Ice arrives and warns them not to show themselves. He says the cops will be asking questions, and they should play it cool. Ice sings “Cool,” and they snap their fingers and dance. Ice leads them as they walk. Anybodys arrives, and they try to ignore her. She tells them that someone is looking for Tony with a gun. She heard Chino say that he is going to get Tony, and he has a gun. Ice says they have to help Tony by finding him before Chino does. They decide to search various places and split up. Ice tells Anybodys that she did good.
Chino is on the streets.
In her room Tony and Maria are lying together on her bed. Anita knocks and comes in. She finds the bedroom locked and tells Anita to open the door. Tony says no, and Anita hears them whispering. Tony says they can meet at the bus station and go away. They agree to meet. He kisses her and goes out the window. Maria opens the door, and Anita comes in and sees Tony outside talking with Anybodys. Anita tells Maria that he is one of them, and she sings “A Boy Like That,” warning her to stick to her own kind. Maria answers by singing “I Have a Love.” Then they sing together about love being your life. Anita weeps and warns her that Chino has a gun. They hear a knock, and Schrank comes in and asks to see Bernardo’s sister. She asks to be excused and says she must go to her brother. He insists on questioning her. Maria asks Anita to go to Doc’s store for her and tell him she has been detained. Anita goes out. Schrank asks her if her brother got into an accident because she danced with the wrong boy. He asks the name of the boy, and she says Jose.
At Doc’s the Jets meet, and Anybodys says she found Tony. Anita comes in and says she wants to see Doc. They refuse to say where he is and tell her to leave. She tries to go downstairs, but they block her. She says she has to give Tony a message to help him. They insult her and pull off some of her clothes. They taunt her and push her around. They get her down, and others pick up Baby John to lay him on her. Doc comes in and tells them to stop. He asks what they are doing, and Anita says Bernardo was right and goes to the door. She says to tell Tony that Maria will never meet him because Chino shot her dead. She goes out, and Doc asks when they are going to stop. He says they make this world lousy and tells them to get out. The Jets leave.
Doc goes downstairs and gives money to Tony who promises he will pay him back. He says they are going to have kids and name them after him. Doc slaps him and asks if that is the only way to get through to them. He asks why they kill. Tony says he explained what happened. He says Maria understands, and Doc tells him that Maria is dead. He says Anita told them that Chino killed her. Tony is very upset and goes out shouting for Chino to come and get him.
Tony shouts “Chino” in the street. Anybodys asks Tony what he is doing, but he tells her to beat it. He asks Chino to kill him too. Tony sees Maria, and she comes to him. As they are embracing, Chino shoots Tony. The Jets arrive. Maria holds Tony who says he did not believe hard enough. She says they will get away and sings “Somewhere” as he dies. She lays his head down and tells the two gangs to stay back. She takes the gun from Chino and asks how he fires it. She points it at him and asks how many bullets are left. She points the gun at them and says they killed Tony and her brother with their hate. She asks how many she can kill and have one bullet for her. She drops the gun and collapses, crying. Schrank arrives, and she tells him not to touch Tony’s body which she covers with hers. She looks at them and then kisses Tony. Three Jets pick up Tony’s body, and two others help them carry him. Baby John puts her shawl on Maria’s head. She stands up and follows them. The Sharks leave in the other direction except Chino who goes with the police.
This superlative musical has great songs and dancing. The modernization of the Romeo and Juliet play reflects the current conflicts in cities between youth gangs of different ethnic groups, especially in New York. The theme that love is the best remedy for hate comes across once again.