Chita Rivera as Anita

Fred Fehl, Courtesy DM Archives

#TBT: How West Side Story Created a Broadway Revolution

When West Side Story landed on Broadway in 1957, it had been a long time coming.

Director-choreographer Jerome Robbins, writer Arthur Laurents and composer Leonard Bernstein toyed with collaborating on a contemporary musical loosely based on Romeo and Juliet for years, picking up and putting down the project multiple times as other creative endeavors demanded their attention. Along the way, they brought in a young lyricist who had never written for Broadway by the name of Stephen Sondheim, and the story morphed into one of gang violence in New York City.

A young Stephen Sondehim, dressed in a white button down and a tie, smirks as he sits at an open piano covered in sheet music. Leonard Bernstein leans against it, listening, while a half dozen young women arrayed around them listen to corrections.

Lyricist Stephen Sondheim at the piano, composer Leonard Bernstein and members of the cast

Zodiac Photographers, Courtesy DM Archives

"It's funny how insulated we are," Robbins said of his research in the August 1957 issue of Dance Magazine. "My office is on Lexington Avenue and 74th Street, and just twenty blocks away life is entirely different. The streets are darker, the signs are in Spanish, and the people lead their lives on the sidewalks. Those kids live like pressure cookers. There's a constant tension, a feeling of the kids having steam that they don't know how to let off."

The resulting musical reshaped Broadway. It garnered six Tony nominations and won two (Robbins for choreography, Oliver Smith for scenic design), launched the now-legendary Chita Rivera (who originated the role of Anita) to stardom, and proved just how effective dance could be at telling a story.

Latest Posts

AMDA students learn how to present their best selves on camera. Photo by Trae Patton, Courtesy AMDA

AMDA's 4 Tips for Acing Your Next Audition

Ah, audition day. The flurry of new choreography, the long lines of dancers, the wait for callbacks. It's an environment dancers know well, but it can also come with great stress. Learning how to be best prepared for the big day is often the key to staying calm and performing to your fullest potential (and then some).

This concept is the throughline of the curriculum at American Musical and Dramatic Academy, where dance students spend all four years honing their audition skills.

"You're always auditioning," says Santana Trujillo, AMDA's dance outreach manager and a graduate of its BFA program. On campus in Los Angeles and New York City, students have access to dozens of audition opportunities every semester.

For advice on how dancers can put their best foot forward at professional auditions, Dance Magazine recently spoke with Trujillo, as well as AMDA faculty members Michelle Elkin and Genevieve Carson. Catch the whole conversation below, and read on for highlights.

July 2021