Loosely based on the renowned Shakespeare play, “Romeo & Juliet”, West Side Story is set on the pulsating, finger-snapping West Side of 1950’s/1960’s New York City. It is a beautiful movie-musical involving love and romance that develops amid conflict between two warring NYC street gangs: the white ethnic American Jets and the newly-arrived Puerto Rican Sharks. Determined to drive the Sharks off of their turf, the Jets claim and stake out their territory with a tough, macho bravado, especially with the Prologue and the Jet Song. The Sharks, on the other hand, are also determined to have a piece of the small piece of turf that both gangs have to share. A melee between the Sharks and the Jets erupts on the playground, only to be broken up by Lt. Schrank and Ofcr. Krupke. Meanwhile, Tony, who was once the Jets gang leader, who is looking for something other than gang life and the streets but doesn’t know what he’s looking for, has been hired to work full time at Doc’s Candy Store. Although the elderly, kindly Doc attempts to be a mentor to the kids, there’s no avail.
The Jets, now back on their turf, are now debating what to do,, and ultimately decide to challenge Bernardo, the Shark gang leader, to a rumble. When the subject comes up about taking a lieutenant, Riff decides to call on his old friend and ex-Jets leader Tony, to help out. Riff then goes to the Doc’s Candy Store to try to enlist Tony’s help. After Tony has turned Riff down several times, Riff suggests that Tony come to the dance that they’re holding that night, pursuading him with “Who knows? Maybe what you’re waiting’ for will be twitchin’ at the dance tonight. ” Reluctantly, Tony agrees to meet Riff and the rest of the Jets at the Gym at ten. At the dance, Tony and Maria meet and fall in love., and the sparks really begin to fly. Tensions and hostilities between the Jets & Sharks, which have been steadily rising, now escalate sharply.
Maria, the sister of the Shark gang leader, Bernardo, is an attractive 17-year-old girl who has been brought to America in order to marry Bernardo’s friend and right-hand man, Chino, who works as an assistant. At the bridal shop where Maria and her girlfriend, Anita, (who’s also Bernardo’s girlfriend, btw) work as seamstresses, Anita has been altering an old white communion dress for Maria to wear to the dance. Despite Maria’s demands that the neck be lowered, and her complaints that she’ll be the only one in a white dress, Anita stands fast and continues with her work, despite Maria’s attempts to distract her by talking about other things. Despite the small dispute, Maria tries on the white dress, loves it, and is enthused about coming to the dance, and the Sharks finally come to call.
That night, at the dance, Glad Hand, the social worker attempts to have the Jets and Sharks do a “get-together” dance. It fails miserably. The Sharks and Jets each go off with their own kind, and the Dance ultimately becomes a fierce competition between the Jets and the Sharks. Later, Tony, who has arrived and been greeted and embraced by his old friend Riff and his girlfriend, Graziella, sees Bernardo’s sister, Maria from across the room. Tony and Maria ultimately meet, fall in love, and begin dancing together. They are broken up by an enraged Bernardo, who orders Chino to take Maria home despite protests that it is her first dance. At this point, Tony’s old friend, Riff intervenes and insists that he, the Jets and Bernardo and the Sharks meet at Doc’s Candy Store at midnight for a war council, to which Bernardo agrees.
After bringing Anita home, Bernardo, Anita, and the other Sharks and their girls have a party up on their tenement rooftop, where an argument erupts over the virtues and vices of the American experience. On his way down from the rooftop, Bernardo invites Anita to meet him on the roof later, to which Anita replies “I’m an American girl now. I don’t wait.” Meanwhile, Tony and Maria meet on the fire escape of Maria’s apartment, where they introduce each other, and then agree to meet at the Bridal Shop the next evening at six o’clock, when the Bridal Shop closes.
Riff, the Jets and their girls assemble outside Doc’s Candy Store shortly before midnight. In the meantime, Officer Krupke arrives, warning the Jets against troublemaking, and then leaves. When Krupke departs, he is lampooned by the Jets. The Jets and their girls go into the Candy Store, sit down and await the arrival of Bernardo and the Sharks, who arrive shortly thereafter. When the Sharks arrive, Riff makes it clear to the girls that they don’t belong being involved in the war council, while Anybody’s, who’s a tomboy and a sort of a Jet “wannabe”, tries to make herself invisible by hiding, only to be spotted by Riff, who gestures for her to go despite her “let me stay” pleas. While Graziella and Velma exit quietly, Anybodys shoves the Sharks like a big tough guy.
Despite Doc’s pleas with the boys to “talk it out” instead of having a rumble, the war council goes on. Riff then challenges Bernardo to a rumble, which he promptly accepts, and then, after a small spat that culminates in the exchange of racial and ethnic insults from both gangs, the war council resumes. The Jets and Sharks agree to meet the next evening after dark, under the West Side Highway, and Riff and Bernardo then shake hands to seal the commitment. Just as the Jets and Sharks are calling the weapons, Tony comes in, and, despite Riff’s entreaties to line himself with the Jets, Tony refuses, and suggests that the rumble be clinched by a “fair fight”, with fists rather than knives or whatever. The fair fight is agreed upon and Ice and Bernardo are chosen to duke it out with fists, despite Bernardo’s obvious disappointment in the fact that he won’t be fighting Tony.
The Jets and Sharks are also visited by Lt. Schrank, who openly displays his prejudice against the Puerto Rican Sharks for their ethnicity and culture by banishing the Sharks from the Candy Store. He then asks the Jets where the rumble is taking place, even declaring “I’m for you! I’ll even lend a hand if things get rough”. When the Jets ultimately refuse to disclose where the rumble was to take place, Schrank then hurls insults at the Jets in reference to their ethnic immigrant/family backgrounds, which strongly indicates that he doesn’t like the Jets much better than he likes the Sharks. Angrily, Lt. Schrank leaves the Candy Store, promising “I’ll find out where the rumble’s gonna be! But be sure to finish each other off before I get there! “Cause if ya don’t, I will!” After the Jets have left, Tony, who’s been cleaning up the store, tells Doc not to let it get him, and that he was very much in love. Doc is not reassured, however.
At the Bridal shop the next afternoon, Maria very gaily prepares for her upcoming meeting with Tony, and the other girls who work with her are either happy for Maria or are making fun of her because she’s acting quite vain. That evening is the big evening, which, as we all know, will mean very different things and have markedly different results for different people. Tony and Maria meet at the Bridal Shop as planned, and Anita clearly disapproves of their romance, but admonishes Maria to “be home in 15 minutes” When Maria asks Tony if he’s going to the rumble, Tony tells Maria no, but Maria, believing that the rumble would do no good, makes him promise to go and stop it, to which Tony acquieses. Meanwhile, the Jets and Sharks meet at their pre-destined and chosen place for the rumble, a deserted area underneath the West Side Highway. After some encouragement and support for the two men chosen to duke it out in the “fair fight”, from their respective gangs, Bernardo and Ice begin to fight.
Just as the rumble is getting underway, Tony arrives, and, despite Riff’s command to Tony to line up with the Jets, refuses, getting between Ice and Bernardo and attempting to shake hands with Bernardo, trying to assure both men that there was “nothing to fight about”. Thoroughly enraged over Tony’s interest in his sister, Bernardo angrily pushes Tony away, roughs him up, and slaps him around for his trouble. Despite Riff’s warnings to Bernardo to stop, Bernardo refuses. Riff ultimately loses his patience and hauls off and belts Bernardo. The forbidden switchblades appear, and the two gang leaders, Riff and Bernardo, begin the knife fight.
Just as Riff is about to “run Bernardo through”, Tony, who has been held back by Ice and Tiger, breaks free and tries to stop Riff. Bernardo ultimately stabs Riff to death, and Tony, to avenge his old friend Riff’s death, in turn, stabs Bernardo. After a briefly engaging in battle, the Jets and Sharks flee the police and go into hiding. Tony, in a state of bewilderment and disbelief, begins calling Maria’s name, until Anybody’s, who’s been hiding in the shadows, drags Tony away from the danger.
The Jets, now led by Ice, who has taken over the Jet gang leadership since Riff’s death, are now hiding out in a garage, are advised to keep cool. Tony, who has been hiding out in Maria’s bedroom, pleads forgiveness before turning himself into the police, but Maria won’t let him. Meanwhile, Anita knocks on Maria’s bedroom door, figures out that Maria had hidden Tony in her bedroom, and severely upbraids her for allowing Tony to be interested in her. Meanwhile, Tony, after advising Maria to meet at Doc’s Candy Store so they could elope together, has escaped out a bedroom window and is found and sent to Doc’s by Anybodys, who, spying around, learns that Chino is hunting for Tony, to avenge Bernardo’s death.
Lt. Schrank, meanwhile, stops by to ask Maria and Anita questions about what happened t he night before, Under questioning, Maria tells Lt. Schrank that she danced with a Puerto Rican boy named Jose. Anita, who has learned that Chino is hunting Tony down with a gun, warns Maria, who is determined to protect Tony. Maria asks Anita to go to Doc’s store to warn him, which she reluctantly does. The results, however, are disastrous. Anita goes to Doc’s Candy Store where she encounters the Jets. Determined to protect Tony, fearful that Anita would disclose Tony’s hiding place to Chino, and out of prejudice against Anita due to her cultural and ethnic background, the Jets refuse to listen to Anita’s appeals that she wants to help stop Chino, and begin to insult her and rough her up. In retaliation, Anita spits out the message that Chino had learned about Tony and Maria and shot her dead..
Meanwhile, Tony is still hiding in the cellar, awaiting Maria’s arrival. Instead, Doc comes down and relays the message that Anita had given him to give to Tony: that Chino had learned about him and Maria and killed her, thereby deflating Tony’s excitement over the prospect of him and Maria having lots of kids in the country and naming them all after Doc, especially by slapping Tony to “wake him up”.
Devastated by the message, Tony runs from the cellar to the street, calling for Chino to come and get him also. Despite warnings by Anybodys to Tony to leave, Tony refuses, and continues to call for Chino. Meanwhile, Maria appears, and she and Tony briefly fall into each other’s arms. Chino appears from behind a building and shoots Tony dead. Tony dies in Maria’s arms, and the Jets and Sharks seem like they’re about to clash once again, but Maria intervenes with a message that they all killed Tony, Riff and Bernardo through their hatred. Several Jets and Sharks converge to carry Tony’s body off, and there’s at least a fleeting understanding on the part of both the Jets and the Sharks in tragedy.