Style on Stage LA

The Journey of West Side Story’s Dance

by Rasi A on Aug 29, 2023

The Original Magic of Broadway (1957)

West Side Story took Broadway by storm in 1957. Jerome Robbins had this brilliant idea of retelling Shakespeare's Romeo and Juliet through young gang members in New York. With Leonard Bernstein’s music and Stephen Sondheim’s lyrics, the show became legendary. Robbins’ dance moves, filled with colorful passion and energy, transformed how stories were told on stage.

The unique touch of the show was its street-style language. Characters like the Jets and Sharks spoke in a playful slang, with catchy phrases like “Cut the frabbajabba.” This youthful and edgy energy was also captured in their movements and the show’s stylish set designs.

The Film Adaptation (1961) and its Cultural Impact

Robbins' choreography didn't just stay on the Broadway stage. It leapt onto the big screen in the movie adaptation of West Side Story. Audiences everywhere recognized his dance styles, making them an iconic part of cultural history. There’s even a nod to it in the musical Urinetown, where just a hint of his choreography draws instant laughs.

Richard Israel later took up the challenge of recreating the magic at the Valley Performing Arts Center. With choreographer John Todd, they aspired to give the show a modern, yet authentic touch. The result? A performance that honored the original while reflecting today’s world. For instance, modern streetwear and less coordinated costumes replaced the vibrant outfits of the past.

The 2009 Revival with a Sprinkle of Spanish

The 2009 Broadway revival saw a sprinkle of Spanish added to the mix. This change was driven by Laurents, who aimed to breathe new life into certain parts of the story. An interesting touch? Lin Manuel Miranda, who later gained fame with Hamilton, translated some lyrics into Spanish.

Israel and Todd, while valuing the original work, aimed for a fresher take. They viewed West Side Story as a masterpiece of musical theatre, perfectly blending text, music, and movement. And it wasn't just about reproducing Robbins’ work. They wanted to emphasize the story's timeless message, especially in our current political climate. The message is clear: celebrate differences and honor individual choices.

Evolution in Key Show Moments

Over the years, various parts of West Side Story have transformed. From the prologue's more grounded dance to the heightened realism in "The Rumble", the changes are evident. For instance, during the "Dance at the Gym", the enhanced police presence and upfront sexuality became more apparent. Then there's "Tonight", where Tony and Maria serenade each other amidst a foggy stage. The addition of contemporary elements, like a 925 Sterling Silver Ring, could symbolize the timeless nature of love amidst societal struggles.

Closer to women's fashion, "I Feel Pretty" stands out. The girls who accompany Maria are noticeably more choreographed. Meanwhile, in "America", Anita and the female Sharks deliver powerful moves that are earthy and raw.

The Bold Finale and What It Represents

The finale of West Side Story is a marvel in musical theatre. It's a daring 15-minute segment, mostly drama with a hint of underscoring. No singing, just raw emotion until the very end. It's an ending that transcends the passage of time, much like how the story has evolved from Broadway to La Mirada.

Throughout these adaptations, the essence of West Side Story remains unchanged. Whether through dance, fashion, or narrative, it serves as a reminder of the enduring power of love, art, and creativity.