Imagine gritty NYC streets in the 1950s. An Irish Catholic boy falls for a Jewish girl, a Holocaust survivor and recent immigrant. Their families violently pursue each other, and it all ends in tragedy. If it sounds familiar that’s because it was the original pitch for West Side Story, the hit musical that ultimately centered on a Polish Catholic man and a Puerto Rican woman.
It turns out that in 1947, Broadway director, choreographer, and producer Jerome Robbins collaborated with Leonard Bernstein and Arthur Laurents on a musical inspired by Romeo and Juliet. Set on New York’s Lower East Side it would take place during the Passover-Easter season, and focus on the Jets (Catholics) and the Emeralds (Jews). But they shelved it when they decided it was too similar to the successful show Abie’s Irish Rose.
Fast forward 5 years. Puerto Rican immigrants are flooding NYC, and gang turf wars are in the headlines. Robbins, Bernstein and Laurent saw a new angle on their story, and made history with their smash hit. We can’t imagine changing anything about West Side Story, but it is fun to imagine the Sharks dancing to Klezmer music on the roof as they sing about “America.”