West Side Story is of colossal importance in the life and career of Chita Rivera. This show established her as a major Broadway star and marks the beginning of the legend of Chita Rivera as Broadway's foremost dancer-actress-singer. Chita would later say that choreographer Jerome Robbins had enabled her to realize her distinct personality as a dancer. The show also marked an important collaboration with Peter Gennaro who did all the Sharks' choreography for "The Dance at the Gym" and "America."

First produced at the Winter Garden on September 26, 1957, with Chita as "Anita," Carol Lawrence as "Maria", and Larry Kert as "Tony," West Side Story is a retelling of Shakespeare's Romeo and Juliet, transplanted to New York City in the 1950s. Romeo and Juliet become Tony and Maria. The feud between the houses of Capulet and Montague becomes a rivalry between Puerto Rican and Anglo gangs called the Sharks and the Jets. Shakespeare's famous balcony scene is transferred to the fire-escape of a tenement building on New York's West Side.

West Side Story trivia:

In addition to Chita Rivera, the original cast included: Carol Lawrence, Larry Kert, Art Smith, Mickey Calin, Ken LeRoy, Lee Becker Theodore, David Winter, Tony Mordente, Eddie Roll, and Martin Charnin.

An artistic triumph of the first magnitude, West Side Story also prospered at the box-office. A three-year run on Broadway was followed by an extended national tour and a return engagement on Broadway.

Chita met and married dancer Tony Mordente during the original run of West Side Story. The London run of the show was postponed until after the birth of their daughter, Lisa Mordente. Chita then went on to star in the London production of the show at Her Majesty's Theatre, where she repeated her New York success. She stayed with the show in London for a year before returning to Broadway to star as Rosie with Dick Van Dyke in the new musical, Bye Bye Birdie. She would later return to London's Her Majesty's Theatre in Bye Bye Birdie as well.

In a way, West Side Story marks the beginning of Chita's long flirtations with the Tony Award - she would be nominated five times before she finally won in 1984. It is surprising to realize that Chita wasn't even nominated for West Side Story. The reason being that Carol Lawrence, who played Maria, was billed below the title, absurdly putting her in the supporting or featured actress category alongside the similarly inappropriately nominated Barbara Cook, who won the supporting Tony for her starring role in The Music Man! (No leading actress was Tony nominated for West Side Story. Gwen Verdon and Thelma Ritter shared that honor for their performances in New Girl in Town.) In addition to the supporting nomination for Carol Lawrence, West Side Story was nominated for Best Musical; Max Goberman was nominated as Best Conductor and Musical Director; and Irene Sharaff was nominated for her costumes. Jerome Robbins won for his revolutionary choreography, and Oliver Smith won for scenic design for his work that year.

 

Book by Arthur Laurents; based on a concept by Jerome Robbins
Lyrics by Stephen Sondheim
Music by Leonard Bernstein
Produced by Robert Griffith & Harold Prince
Directed by Jerome Robbins
Choreography by Jerome Robbins & Peter Gennaro
Conductor and Musical Direction by Max Goberman
Scenic Design by Oliver Smith
Costumes by Irene Sharaff
Opened September 26, 1957 at the Winter Garden Theatre and ran for 732 performances


Chita (left) rehearses with Stephen Sondheim, Leonard Bernstein, and the other women of the West Side Story cast.

 


Program for the London production of West Side Story

Song List

* Overture
* Prologue
* Jet Song
* Change of Scene (instrumental)
* Something's Coming
* Change of Scene
* The Dance At The Gym (Part 1: Blues)
* Part 2: Promenade/Mambo/Cha-Cha
* Part 3: Meeting Scene
* Part 4: Jump
* Maria
* Balcony Scene
* America
* Change of Scene
* Cool
* Continuation of Scene
* Under Dialogue and Change of Scene
* Under Dialogue and One Hand One Heart
* Tonight
* The Rumble
* I Feel Pretty
* Under Dialogue and Ballet Sequence part 1 (Transistion to Scherzo/scherzo/Somewhere)
* Ballet conclusion (Procession and Nightmare)
* Gee Officer Krupke
* Change of Scene
* A Boy Like That/I Have A Love
* Change of Scene
* Taunting Scene part 1
* Taunting Scene part 2
* Taunting Scene part 3
* Finale part 1
* Finale part 2
* Finale part 3

Click on the Sample () link for a preview of the music!
MP3 format

"The Dance at the Gym"

Synopsis

Act One

Chita plays Anita, friend of the heroine, Maria, and girlfriend of Maria's brother Bernardo. The beautifully crafted role allows Chita to demonstrate her range as a dancer-singer in Act One, and as a singer-dramatic actress in Act Two.

The play opens with a danced Prologue in which the two rival teenage gangs, the Jets and the Sharks enact their conflict over who will control the neighborhood.

Following a brief exchange with the ineffective policeman, Lt. Schrank and Officer Krupke, Riff, the leader of the Jets, the Anglo gang, devises a plan to gain control of the street (When You're A Jet").

Riff wants his best friend Tony to re-join the gang. Riff convinces Tony to join the Jets at the neighborhood dance. Tony agrees out of a sense of loyalty to Riff, but explains that he feels himself growing away from the gang and envisions a different and better future ("Something's Coming").

Maria works with Anita (Chita) in a dress shop. Anita, who is Bernardo's girl friend, is making Maria a dress to wear to the neighborhood dance. Maria, who has only recently arrived from Puero Rico, sees this dance as the official beginning of her life in America. Like Tony, she is full of hope. Her brother Bernardo, who is the leader of the Sharks, arrives with Chino. Maria's family has selected Chino to be her future husband.

At the dance, a social worker, Gladhand, introduces the rival gang members and their girls, but the kids pair off along ethnic lines anyway. The evening erupts into a spirited challenge dance, but once Tony and Maria spot each other, like Romeo and Juliet, they are transported into a moment of romantic suspension. They dance together, oblivious of the tension around them. The romantic idyll is interrupted when Bernardo roughly pulls his sister from Tony's arms. Maria is sent home, as Riff and Bernardo arrange a war council at the drugstore.

Unaware of the plan between the two leaders, an ecstatic Tony sings "Maria." As he sings, Maria appears on a fire escape above him. They profess their love for each other ("Tonight").

Anita and her friends are gathered on a city rooftop, where they express conflicting views about their lives in New York City. Chita and the girls sing "America," stopping the show cold and establishing a Chita Rivera signature song.

At the Drugstore, the proprietor, Doc, tries to convince the Jets not to have a rumble with the Sharks. The gang expresses their pent-up tension in "Cool." A rumble is arranged for the next day.

The next day, Maria learns about the rumble from Anita at the dress shop. When Tony arrives, Anita leaves. Maria begs Tony to stop the rumble and he promises her he will. They enact a mock marriage ceremony ("One Hand, One Heart") prophetically swearing that "even death can't part us now."

Tony tries to stop the rumble in progress under a highway. In the midst of insults, pushing, and shoving, Bernardo stabs Riff. In blind fury, Tony stabs Bernardo. The kids flee. The curtain comes down on a stage, empty except for the bodies of Riff and Bernardo.

Act Two

Unaware of the tragedy that has occurred, Maria sings to her girl friends about how beautiful she feels ("I Feel Pretty"). She speaks of marriage, and her friends assume she is thinking about Chino. Chino enters with the news Tony has killed Bernardo. Left alone, Maria is praying; Tony enters through the window. He explains that he killed Bernardo in a moment of anger over Riff's death. Maria forgives him, and they declare their determination to be together. Shark and Jet couples dance together in a dream-like, peaceful, sunlit world - the "Somewhere." At the end of the dream, Tony and Maria are in her bed, in each other's arms.

In an alley, the bumbling Office Krupke is questioning the Jets about the murders. The gang ridicules him as they sing "Officer Krupke," a put-down of ineffectual social workers, cops, psychiatrists, and judges.

From this point, Chita figures importantly in the events leading up to the climax of the play. As Anita arrives at Maria's apartment, Tony escapes through the window, telling Maria to meet him at the drugstore so they can run away together. Anita realizes Tony has been with Maria and berates her for making love to the boy who killed her brother ("A Boy Like That"). When Maria explains ("I Have a Love"), Anita understands that Maria loves Tony as much as she loved Bernardo. Anita warns Maria that Chino has a gun and is planning to kill Tony. When Shrank arrives to question Maria, Anita agrees to go to the drugstore to tell Tony to wait for her.

Anita is prevented from reaching Tony by the Jets. The gang's verbal taunting of Anita gets physical and is turning into rape when she is saved by Doc. In her fury and humiliation, Anita lies and tells Tony's friends that Chino has killed Maria. Doc reports the news to Tony, who is hiding in his cellar. Tony runs out to find Chino. On the street, Tony sees Maria. Chino appears and kills Tony. As Maria kneels over Tony's body, the Jets and Sharks enter. Maria takes Chino's gun, but is unable to bring herself to shoot.

Gradually, members of both gangs assemble on either side of Tony's body. Maria kisses him. The Jets and Sharks form a procession and together they carry Tony offstage while the adults stand by, still helpless. The lights fade.