A plaque remaining from the Big Apple Night Club at West 135th Street and Seventh Avenue in Harlem.

Above, a 1934 plaque from the Big Apple Night Club at West 135th Street and Seventh Avenue in Harlem. Discarded as trash in 2006. Now a Popeyes fast food restaurant on Google Maps.

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Entry from May 24, 2005
“East Side Story” into “West Side Story” (1957)
West Side Story (1957) was originally East Side Story. The story of the Broadway musical and film West Side Story is detailed on the official website (see below).

There is no grand song that says "New York City," such as "New York, New York" declaring that this is a "helluva town." The song "America" is certainly a standout.

"Somewhere" is perhaps the best song. I've noticed that a frequent subway brake squeal plays the first three notes of "Somewhere" that are 'There's a place..." Coincidence?

1. How does West Side Story compare to Romeo & Juliet?

WSS is a modern day adaptation of the timeless classic by William Shakespeare. They both involve two young people that fall in love, but are kept apart by their friends/families. This causes grave consequences.

For more information, please read Jack Gottleib's West Side Story fact sheet.

2. Where does it take place?

West Side Story takes place on the west side of Manhattan, New York City. Most of the scenes take place in the streets, playground, on the roof, at Doc's or under the highway.

3. When does it take place?

West Side Story is set in the mid 1950's, when many Puerto Ricans moved to NYC.
8. When was West Side Story written?

Jerome Robbins' proposed the idea for writing a musical based on Romeo and Juliet to Leonard Bernstein in January of 1949 (working title: East Side Story, set in the slums at the coincidence of Easter-Passover celebrations). In August of 1955, a meeting with Arthur Laurents produced another idea -- two teen-age gangs as the warring factions, one of them newly-arrived Puerto Ricans, the other self-styled "Americans." In November, 1955 Stephen Sondheim joined the project as lyricist. A year and a half later, rehearsals began for the Broadway premiere of West Side Story.

For more about the development of WSS, please read The Growth of an Idea by Arthur Laurents, New York Herald Tribune, 8/4/57.
9. Where was West Side Story first performed?

The stage version of West Side Story opened in previews/tryouts on August 20, 1957 in Washington D.C. Following this and another preview engagement in Philadelphia, the musical opened on Broadway at the Winter Garden Theater, September 26, 1957.

The film version was released on October 18, 1961

Puerto Rico . . .
You ugly island . . .
Island of tropic diseases.
Always the hurricanes blowing,
Always the population growing . . .
And the money owing,
And the babies crying,
And the bullets flying.
I like the island Manhattan.
Smoke on your pipe and put that in!

I like to be in America!
O.K. by me in America!
Ev'rything free in America
For a small fee in America!

There's a place for us,
Somewhere a place for us.
Peace and quiet and open air
Wait for us

What's up with the mournful tune the new 2 and 5 trains make when they leave a station?
Maybe you've heard the mmm-hmm-hmm as the sleek cars vanish into the tunnel. "This is an electronic sound emitted by the propulsion system as trains accelerate," Parker says. "Many customers say that it resembles part of a tune from West Side Story." Here's what's up: According to Bombardier Transportation—which made the new cars, called the R-142 fleet—these models use alternating-current motors, which store electricity for long periods of time instead of needing a constant feed. But the tracks still provide constant electricity for the old direct-current trains. As the new trains speed up and cut off electric supply at ever-higher velocities, you hear a tune, because musical notes correspond to certain frequencies. Bombardier picked the optimal frequencies for making the trains run, but never expected a soundtrack. One engineer who worked on the trains explains via e-mail: "There are five audible notes, but the two last ones are gener-ated at higher speeds and buried in the wheel/rail noise." The first is between F-sharp and G; the second, close to E; the third, E one octave higher. "These do not correspond to exact notes of our 12-note scale," the engineer writes. "This must be very annoying for people who have perfect pitch."

19 June 1955, New York Times, "RIALTO GOSSIP" by Lewis Funke, pg. X1:
LAST week, Leonard Bernstein, Arthur Laurents and Jerome Robbins, as formidable an array of talent as any daydreaming producer would care to conceive of, took from their idea bank a notion they have been saving for some time, looked it over and gleefully decided it still was as fetching as when it had been put away because of other commitments.

Note, therefore, the trio's current high resolve to be represented in the neighborhood with a new musical and note, too, that for the present the project is being labeled "East Side Story." It will be modern in content, dealing with young people in New York, and Mr. Bernstein, to be sure, will be creating the tunes. Mr. Laurents is to be credited with the book and Mr. Robbins with the staging and the choreography. As for the lyrics, they will be essayed by Messrs. Bernstein and Laurents. Mark the venture as being in work with hopes for production set for a year or so hence.

18 September 1955, New York Times, "GOSSIP OF THE RIALTO" by Lewis Funke, pg. X1:
Mr. Laurents, you may recall, is to do the book for what is tentatively being called "East Side Story."

16 October 1955, New York Times, "NEWS AND GOSSIP GATHERED ON THE RIALTO" by Lewis Funke, pg. X1:
Meanwhile, hardly a day passes without his being informed by his partners, Leonard Bernstein and Arthur Laurents, about their progress on "East Side Story," the musical on which they are working here until Mr. Robbins can personally join them.

13 November 1955, New York Times, "NEWS AND GOSSIP GATHERED ON THE RIALTO" by Lewis Funke, pg. X1:
PROGRESS: Enough words finally are on paper and enough notes on their staves to warrant the disclosure that the musical on which Leonard Bernstein, Arthur Laurents and Jerome Robins are working is considerably removed from the usual merchandise in the field. What they are doing is taking the story of Romeo and Juliet and setting it on the West Side, among the juvenile delinquent gangs of today.

14 November 1955, Los Angeles Times, "Drama" by Hedda Hopper, pg. B10:
Meanwhil he's (Jerome Robbins - ed.) working with Leonard Bernstein and Arthur Laurents on "Eastside Story," musical about teenage kids of New York's East Side. This was Robbins' idea.

26 November 1955, New York Times, "JEROME ROBBINS TO STAGE MUSICAL" by Louis Calta, pg. 22:
Mr. Robbins' next chore for this New York stage, however, will be for the new musical by Arthur Laurents and Leonard Bernstein, once tentatively labeled "East Side Story" and now called "West Side Story." Conceived by Mr. Robbins, this will be placed in rehearsal next spring under his direction.

22 January 1956, New York Times, pg. 93:
POSTPONED: That Leonard Bernstein-Authur Laurents-Steve Sondheim musical, "West Side Story," is finished. But, says our man, you no longer are to count it among this season's entrants. The creators of this modernized treatment of the Romeo and Juliet legend have the notion that they want unknowns for the leading parts. Consequently, they figure they're going to need all the time they can get for searching. Look for it, therefore, early next season under the direction of Jerome Robbins.

27 September 1967, New York Times, pg. 14:
Theatre: The Jungles of the City
"West Side Story" Is
at Winter Garden

ALTHOUGH the material is horrifying, the workmanship is admirable.

Gang warfare is the material of "West Side Story," which opened at the Winter Garden last evening, and very little of the hideousness has been left out. But the author, composer and ballet designer are creative artists. Pooling imagination and virtuousity, they have written a profoundly moving show that is as ugly as the city jungles and also pathetic, tender and forgiving.
Posted by Barry Popik
Music/Dance/Theatre/Film/Circus • Tuesday, May 24, 2005 • Permalink

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