Extraordinary Stories of Ordinary Life

A Real Life West Side Story

A new movie version of West Side Story is hitting theaters this week. The musical, which tells a story of romance and rivalry between white and Puerto Rican gangs, first opened on Broadway in 1957 and was adapted for the screen in 1961. Leonard Bernstein composed the music; Stephen Sondheim, who died last month, wrote the lyrics.

It was a huge hit. Though over the years, some people have criticized West Side Story’s depiction of Puerto Rican life in New York City.

The musical originally was going to be called East Side Story, and the conflict was going to be between Catholics and Jews. But it was changed to reflect ethnic tensions that were brewing in New York neighborhoods in the mid-1950s.

The story of warring youth gangs turned out to be prophetic. Just a month before the musical opened, the city was stunned by the brutal murder of a white teenager from Washington Heights named Michael Farmer. Today on the podcast, A Real West Side Story.

A full transcript of this episode is available 


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