West Side Story Film Guide

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English 9 Name_______________

Fall Semester, Unit 2 Period _______

West Side Story Film Guide

Based on: Romeo and Juliet by William Shakespeare

Book by: Arthur Laurents

Music by: Leonard Bernstein

Lyrics by: Stephen Sondheim

Directed & Choreographed by: Jerome Robbins


The Jets (White Gang) The Sharks (Puerto Rican Gang) Adults

Riff, leader Bernardo, leader Doc, Drugstore owner

Tony, friend Maria, his sister Schrank, Plainclothes Cop

Ice, lieutenant Anita, his girlfriend Krupke, Uniformed Cop

Action Chino, his friend Glad Hand, Announcer at

A-Rab, explosive Pepe, lieutenant dance

Baby John Indio

Snowboy Rosalia

Diesel Consuelo

Anybody’s, Tomboy

Graziella, Riff’s girlfriend



Based on Shakespeare’s Romeo and Juliet, this musical story takes place on the West Side of New York City during the last days of summer in the 1950s. The feuding families become two warring New York City gangs: the white Jets and the Puerto Rican Sharks. Tony (a Polish boy) and Maria (a Puerto Rican girl) meet and things look good for the young couple until Tony accidentally kills his sweetheart’s brother while trying to break up a rumble. Violence erupts.


West Side Story opened at the Winter Garden Theatre on Sept. 26, 1957 and ran for 732 performances before going on tour. The 1961 film version features Richard Beymer, Natalie Wood, George Chakiris and Rita Moreno. The Academy Award for Best Picture of 1961 went to the movie version of West Side Story. It earned a total of ten Oscars.

Directions: As you watch the film, consider the connections to Romeo and Juliet. Thoughtfully answer the questions below.

1. The Overture music is a medley of different songs, each corresponding to a different color on the screen. With an adjective or two, describe the music you hear associated with each color.

Romeo and Juliet Connection:

The play begins with a fight between the rival Montague and Capulet clan's servants, reported on by Sampson and Gregor.

2. The musical begins with which gang snapping their fingers at the playground?

3. What action starts the fight?

4. Who finally breaks up the fight?

Romeo and Juliet Connection:

In Scene 2, we meet Romeo for the first time. He has neglected his friends for a while because he is in love. A little later we hear his priest saying, "The earth that's nature's mother is her tomb; / What is her burying grave, that is her womb” (2.3.9-10).

5. In Scene 2 of the musical, whom do we meet for the first time?

6. His close friend, Riff, the Jets’ leader, is upset by his neglect of the gang. What slogan does he use as a code for their lifelong friendship?

Romeo and Juliet Connection:

Also in Scene 2, Romeo is encouraged to attend the masked ball that evening in the rival territory of the Capulet house. He agrees, thinking that he might see Rosalind, and because he has a feeling that something important may occur.

7. Also in Scene 2, Tony is urged by Riff to attend what event?

8. What is Tony talking about in the song called “Something’s Coming”?

Romeo and Juliet Connection:

Juliet first appears in Scene 3. She is with her Nurse, a personal friend and confidante.

9. How is Anita similar to the nurse in Romeo and Juliet?

Romeo and Juliet Connection:

Juliet confesses that she dreads her upcoming arranged marriage to Paris.

10. In the Bridal Shop scene, what does Maria confesses that she dreads?

11. When Tony meets Maria, the dance quickly and drastically changes from jazz to ballet, yet the two are combined. What do you think this combination represents? How does it tie in with the mood of the scene?

Romeo and Juliet Connection:

The ball scene moves from rituals and words heightening the family conflict to the fateful meeting of Romeo and Juliet, and a harsh reaction by her family.

12. The fateful meeting of Tony and Maria gets a harsh reaction from whom?

13. What is the “War Council”?

14. Where and when is the War Council to meet?

Romeo and Juliet Connection:

Juliet questions the importance of family rivalries in the face of true love by asking, "What's in a name?” (2.2.46)

15. Who sings the song “Maria”?

16. How does this song move the plot forward?

17. The scene on the roof of the apartment building with the Sharks and their girlfriends is important because it gives viewers the chance to see how the Puerto Rican men feel about America compared to the Puerto Rican women.

A. What do the women feel about America?

B. What do the men feel about America?

Romeo and Juliet Connection:

The balcony of Juliet's room is the first place where the lovers can express their feelings.

18. Where is the first place Maria and Tony can express their feelings?

Romeo and Juliet Connection:

The dialogue uses imagery and motifs relating to day or light. But almost all of Romeo and Juliet happens in the evening or at night.

19. Who sings the song "Tonight"?

20. How is the phrase “a world full of light" ironic?

Romeo and Juliet Connection:

Romeo seeks advice in Friar Lawrence's monastery. Friar Lawrence is sympathetic to Romeo, and gives him advice and warnings.

21. The next scene is Doc’s Drugstore. What takes place here in this scene?

22. Doc is caring of Tony and sympathetic to some of the gangs, but he is severely critical of what?

23. What is a rumble?

24. Where and when will the rumble take place?

Romeo and Juliet Connection:

Shakespeare writes: "These violent desires have violent ends / And in their triumph die..." (2.6.9-10)

25. How does the song "Tonight", sung just before the rumble, reflect the different expectations and desires of the different groups in the story?

Romeo and Juliet Connection:

The fight unfolds, with the killing and counter-killing of Mercutio by Tybalt, and of Tybalt by Romeo.

26. Why did Tony do what he did in the rumble?

27. How does Tony’s action further complicate the problem between Tony and Maria?

Romeo and Juliet Connection:

Juliet can forgive Romeo for killing her cousin because she is convinced that external forces in the world are struggling with the power of love.

28. Can Maria forgive Tony for killing her brother for the same reason?

29. What does she mean when she says, "But it's not us! It's everything around us!"?

Romeo and Juliet Connection:

Romeo kills Paris at the tomb. Thinking Juliet is dead, he kills himself. Juliet awakens to find him dead and kills herself.

30. Tony thinks Maria is dead. What does he do?

31. Describe what happens to Tony.
32. Maria holds Tony as he dies. Does she kill herself, as in Shakespeare’s Romeo and Juliet?

Romeo and Juliet Connection:

The families find their children dead; they are horrified and are confronted by Prince Escalus about the consequences of their hatred.

33. Who turns on the gangs with a gun?

34. What is Maria’s message to the Jets and Sharks?

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