It all began in 1947, when Jerome Robbins wanted to do a modern day
remake of Romeo and Juliet, set in the Lower East Side of New York.
It would involve a recent Holocaust survivor and an Irish Catholic.
The gangs...the Catholic Jets and the Jewish Emeralds!
Leonard Bernstein was brought on board, as well as
Arthur Laurents (to write the script),
but the idea was shelved when it compared too closely with
Abie's Irish Rose.
Almost ten years later...it was taken off that shelf,
and transplanted to Los Angeles
where the "new idea" of juvenile gangs had recently caught the media's eye.
But another shift eventually transplanted it to NYC where they could
integrate a Latin beat with Puerto Rican flavors.
Sondheim was talked into doing lyrics by mentor Hammerstein,
so the creativity could begin.
Above, Chita Rivera (Anita), Jerome Robbins (Director/Choreographer),
Larry Kert (Tony), Carol Lawrence (Maria).
Carol, still wearing her stripes, Sondheim (age 27) at the piano,
and Bernstein (whatta profile) in rehearsal.
Best Musical that year? Nope. The Music Man won it all.
Sondheim "found" Chita Rivera and Larry Kert
for the roles of Anita and Tony.
There was more dancing in West Side Story
than any other musical to date.
Jerome Robbins almost quit, until producer Hal Prince
allowed him an 8 week dance rehearsal period
(twice the accepted Broadway length).
First pick for the character of Tony was James Dean
(but then he had to go and die).
But much was required of the actors:
the demands of Robbins' dance routines,
those Bernstein-angular melodies...
and then they had to act?
Triple threats, exponentially, needed.
The movie version followed in 1961.
Rita Moreno replaced Chita...performing
Dance At The Gym with Bernardo, played by George Chakiris.
George would go on to play Bobby in the first national tour
of Sondheim's Company.