10 Things You Didn’t Know About West Side Story
It was supposed to be an entirely different story
West Side Story has been a fixture on stage for decades now. Thousands and thousands of people have fallen in love with the story, the characters and the songs. But despite this, there are still some interesting tidbits that not even the most fanatic of fans might know.
1) It was supposed to drop a historic F-bomb
Lyricist Stephen Sondheim has gone on the record to state he wanted West Side Story to be the first Broadway musical to drop the F word—it was actually part of the original lyrics! But because of distribution problems this would have caused, Sondheim re-write the lyrics.
2) The film had to be censored further
In the play, Tony and Riff vow their friendship in song. The lyrics included a line that said “from sperm to worm.” This had to be changed to “from birth to earth” in the film.
3) The original producer backed out of the show
The original producer had opted to stop raising money for the show early on in development because he believed it was too risky for a Broadway musical to discuss such serious topics. #WhatIsRegret
4) It was going to be a love-breaks-religious-boundaries story
Originally, West Side Story was going to be about a Catholic boy and a Jewish girl. After realizing that the idea was not the freshest they had, choreographer Jerome Robbins and composer Leonard Bernstein settled on a story between two teenage gangs.
5) The rehearsal period was then unheard of
Back in the 50s, it was average for a musical cast to train and practice for some four or five weeks. Robbins made his cast practice for eight.
6) The cast was forbidden to interact with each other
To generate some real hostility between the gangs, those that played the Sharks and those that played the Jets could not mingle outside the theater.
7) Maria was supposed to die
Unlike William Shakespeare’s Romeo and Juliet, one of the star-crossed lovers makes it to the closing curtain in West Side Story. However, in an early draft of the story, Maria actually committed suicide.
8) The film was supposed to star different actors
The filmmakers reportedly wanted Elvis Presley to star as Tony and for Audrey Hepburn to portray Maria.
9) There was a bilingual version of the play
Playwright Arthur Laurents partnered up with producers Kevin McCollum, Jeffrey Seller and James L. Nederlander to retell West Side Story. He thought it would be brilliant to have the Sharks speak and sing in their native language. The retelling ran for some 700 performances until it wrapped up in 2011.
10) It is multi-awarded
The play may not have nabbed the 1958 Tony Award for Best New Musical, but the film version did go on to win a total of 10 Academy Awards—the highest for any musical film.
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