The "Did You Know?" of Musicals: West Side Story Edition

Broadway premier 1957 starring Carol Lawrence, Larry Kert, and Chita Rivera. Filmed in 1961, starring Natalie Woods, Richard Beymer, George Chakiris, and Rita Moreno.

The Dancing

  • During filming the actors wore out 200 pairs of shoes, used over 100 pounds of makeup, and split 27 pairs of pants. The material for the boy's jeans was dyed twice and then distressed to help it withstand the intense movement required for the dancing.
  • George Chakiris had played Riff, the head of the Jets, in London but was cast as Bernardo, the leader of the Sharks for the film.
  • The film was shot on location on 61st Street, New York. Many of the dancers suffered shin splints or other injuries due to dancing on pavement instead of a sound stage.
  • Director Jerome Robbins rehearsed dance numbers 3 months before shooting began, and was continually revising his choreography causing the film to go over-budget from re-takes.

Carol Lawrence and Larry Kert in the original Broadway production.
Carol Lawrence and Larry Kert in the original Broadway production.
Natalie Woods and Richard Beymer in the film.
Natalie Woods and Richard Beymer in the film.

The Music

  • Neither of the lead actors sang their numbers. Natalie Wood was dubbed by Marni Nixon and Richard Beymer by Jimmy Bryant. Nixon also dubbed for Rita Moreno, who had a cold, at the end of the quintet, which means she was singing the part of Maria and Anita at the same time.
  • Somewhere is one of the most famous songs built on a 7th interval. Small portions of it's main theme are spread throughout, giving coherency to the music as an entire work.
  • Several lines from both songs and dialogue had to be edited from the original script to meet the film censorship standards.
  • The song One Hand, One Heart was intended for Leonard Bernstein's musical Candide, but was discarded from that one and revised for West Side Story.
  • Stephen Sondheim, now considered one of the best living Broadway composers, made his debut as lyricist in WSS.
  • The songs "I Feel Pretty", "Cool", and "Officer Krupke" were altered for the movie and placed at a different part of the story to help build tension in a constant line throughout the film.
  • The idea of a musical based on Shakespeare's Romeo and Juliet was originally going to be a romance between a Catholic Irish boy and a Jewish girl. However, Leonard Bernstein and the producer Arthur Laurents had a conversation about the growing phenomenon of youth gangs from South American countries, and developed the idea of two rival gangs in New York City. Hence, the Puertorican Sharks and the American Jets.

Robert Wise and Jerome Robbins with some of West Side Story's Oscars.
Robert Wise and Jerome Robbins with some of West Side Story's Oscars.

The Accolades

  • The film won 10 Academy Awards, more than any musical before or since.
  • The film ran for 249 weeks in Paris, the longest run in French history.
  • The Broadway play was nominated for a total of five Tonys, and won for it's choreography in the year 1957.
  • It was the first film to win an Oscar for two directors (Robert Wise and Jerome Robbins).
  • The play ran longer in London than it did on Broadway, where it had an impressive 732 performances.

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Comments 5 comments

rlaha profile image

rlaha 4 years ago from Spartanburg, SC

That's very interesting to know! Thank you for sharing these facts!


collegatariat profile image

collegatariat 4 years ago Author

Thank you for your comment, rlaha! It was lots of fun to do the research for this hub and learn the facts.


rlaha profile image

rlaha 4 years ago from Spartanburg, SC

It was a very interesting read. Thank you again :).


johnwick profile image

johnwick 4 years ago from Eastbourne

This is a very interesting post. The "splitting 27 pairs of pants" made me laugh


collegatariat profile image

collegatariat 4 years ago Author

I know... it's hilarious, and you can only imagine the awkward cuts that such events caused. It's also astounding to think about how much activity was required to wear out that many pairs of shoes-- talk about incredible dancers! Thanks for stopping by.

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