Beautiful New York

A Celebration of the City

Top 50 Greatest NYC Movies — #32

West Side Story (dir. Robert Wise, 1961)

07-06 West Side Story

This legendary musical, and winner of 10 Academy Awards (including Best Picture of 1961) is pure New York, from its Broadway origins at the hands of Leonard Bernstein and Stephen Sondheim, to its legendary on-location shoot. Director Robert Wise was constantly head-to-head with Robert Moses in the efforts to keep the old San Juan Hill neighborhood in the west 60’s intact long enough for him to finish filming, while Moses was preparing to build Lincoln Center on the same spot. Based on a modern Romeo & Juliet play called East Side Story (about the romance between a Catholic boy and a Jewish girl on the Lower East Side), this beloved opera reflects the universality of star-crossed love and both the joys and the tensions of a culturally diverse city.


1 Comment

  1. It wasn’t based on a play called “East Side Story”. That was the name and the concept that Arthur Laurents originally came up with. When he mentioned it to Jerome Robbins, the director (who co-directed the movie until he was dismissed and replaced by Wise, giving him the dubious distinction of being the only director in Hollywood history to win and Oscar for his one and only directorial credit), Robbins said that it sounded too much like ABIE’S IRISH ROSE and the idea was put on hold.

    Several years later Laurents and Bernstein were sitting by a pool in Beverly Hills and they read an article in the paper about the racial tension between Chicanos and Caucasian kids in L.A. They decided to change their story, relocated the action to the Upper West Side and turning the Montegues into the Jets and the Capulettes into the Sharks. The rest is history.

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