Why West Side Story is Not Romeo and Juliet

This discussion came up on Twitter, and I thought it might be good to put it someplace where it won’t scroll away in a couple of hours.

Question:  Everybody knows that West Side Story is basically a modern retelling of Romeo and Juliet.  Montagues and Capulets, Sharks and Jets.  BUT!  There are some pretty crucial differences.  Juliet lives in WSS, for one.  Discuss the differences, and how they alter your feelings toward the story.  Is WSS an entirely new thing and they can do whatever they want?  Or do they suffer for it, the farther they get from Shakespeare’s original?

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One thought on “Why West Side Story is Not Romeo and Juliet

  1. This happens to be the very first topic I ever delivered a speech on. I was eight, my parents were captives and deeply regretted that week's rental choices for the weekend. Obviously I've had a lot of time to think of it since then.

    I do think WSS *borrows heavily* from R&J, the parallels of family ties = gang ties, nurse = anita, paris = chino only go so far. The message is also sort of the same: Violence is not a healthy social response to settle differences – though with the Monts and Caps we don't know why they fight (fun to speculate!), with the Jets and Sharks we know that racial and economic tension is what keeps them from getting along.

    It is important, to me, that Maria lives. Without Juliet around, are the Capulets really going to keep to their vow to get along with the Montagues? Who's going to tell the story from a less biased position? Maria seems to be that person who will carry the truth of the events on, and live as a reminder to both sides of what they lost.

    One other thing, unrelated to theme, I have *sometimes* thought that the dancing/singing and rhythmic speech in WSS reminds me of the entirely poetic language in R&J. No sonnets, but we do get a sweet little flute number.

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