Book Review: Our Story, The Jets and Sharks Then and Now

images1I picked up this amazing book at the Broadway Cares/Equity Fights Aids Flea Market a few weeks back.  “Our Story” is a sort of “joint” memoir that was written by twelve performers from the film adaptation of “West Side Story” (1961).  Each chapter is essentially a diary entry by one of the dancers and includes “then” and “now” photographs.  The memoir includes both Jets and Sharks (the two rival gangs in the musical; Caucasian and Puerto Rican, respectively), many of whom originated the same roles on the Broadway stage.  This incredible book takes you behind the scenes of the classic movie musical and gives you an inside look at the dancers who created those characters on the big screen.

Did you know:nyv_zoe_20160203_sharks_courtesy_photofest

  • Jerome Robbins (choreographer) was “fired” from the film production because he cost the producers too much money.  Robbins was a perfectionist and would insist on many, many takes of each scene from nearly every angle. (Check out the clip of “Cool” at the bottom of this post and notice the brilliant, and obviously tedious, camera work).
  • The Jets and Sharks were required to take a full-length ballet class each morning before rehearsals/shooting.
  • Robbins encouraged actual rivalry between the dancers who played the Jets and the Sharks.  He would not let them interact during the work week in order to build camaraderie within the “gangs” and tension between them (on film, that is!).  The Jets and the Sharks even played pranks on each other!
  • Most of the film was shot in LA (at MGM studios), but the Prologue was shot on a lot in New York City where Lincoln Center now stands.
  • In the film version, Robbins included the Shark boys in, “America” to make the scene more dynamic.
  • The King of Rock n’ Roll, Elvis Presley was originally considered for the role of Tony!

I won’t give any more juicy tidbits away.  Discover them for yourself!  Order the book on Amazon and then re-watch the film to get re-inspired by the stories, choreography, and masterpiece of “West Side Story!”