In this essay I have been researching and will be discussing the different contexts of west side story. This will help me to critically comment on the portrayal of Romeo and Juliet through the use of dance. West Side Story is a modern-day version of Shakespeare’s tragedy Romeo and Juliet, west side story however is set in the Upper West Side of New York City in the late 1950s with conflict between two teenage rival street gangs of different ethnic and cultural backgrounds rather than Romeo and Juliet where there are two feuding families.
The two stories parallel each other in many ways, for example, Romeo and Juliet starts out with a street fight between the Montagues and Capulets, so does west side story with the Jets and the Sharks, but instead of it being a fight, the choreographer changed it into a dance/choreographed fight, so you could see which gang was which. Another similar thing is when some Montague men go to the Capulet party, this is where Romeo meets Juliet.
In West Side Story, Maria and Tony see each other from opposite sides of the dance and are immediately attracted to each other. Having Maria and tony meet at a dance was a theme related to the time in the 1950’s in America, it was a popular thing to have dance’s at schools. The original 1957 Broadway production was directed and choreographed by Jerome Robbins. During the time that the dance and the film was being made and choreographed, there were many things happening in America at the time.
A turning point in American musical theatre began with West Side Story’s dark themes, sophisticated music, and obvious dealings with current social problems in the country. The song “America” stands out as an important example of the social problems, it brings to light the ‘problems’ of immigrants coming to live in the United States, in this case the Americans and the Puerto Ricans.
Many Puerto Ricans didn’t like how they were portrayed in the film and that it foreshadowed the civil rights movement. This social problem is also shown in the dance between the sharks and the jets when they come towards each other. There wasn’t really a target audience for west side story, as it was viewed by many people; I think it relates more to teenagers and young adults, because of the society today and how they portrayed the gangs.