Pulled directly from the pages of Shakespeare's Romeo and Juliet, West Side Story takes place on New York's West Side in the mid-1950s amidst widespread racial and social tension. The show begins as a war is building between two rival gangs fighting over the same piece of turf: born and bred New York boys, The Jets, and Puerto Rican immigrants The Sharks. In the midst of the battlefield are two young romantics, good-boy Tony, a Jet ready to leave the gang life behind, and wide-eyed Maria, the sister of Sharks leader, Bernardo. When Tony and Maria unexpectedly meet and fall for one another, tension between the rival groups only escalates, leading to a bloody and senseless rumble that costs both sides young lives. In spite of the violence, the true story at the core of the show is two lovers trying to find a way to be together—and whether either can survive when hate and ignorance are unwilling to yield.
The dark theme, sophisticated music, extended dance scenes, and focus on social problems marked a turning point in American musical theater. Bernstein's score for West Side Story has become extremely popular; it includes "Something's Coming," "Maria," "America," "Somewhere," "Tonight," "Jet Song," "I Feel Pretty," "One Hand, One Heart," and "Cool.