Jerome Robbins has clearly drawn on Shakespeare’s Romeo and Juliet play to devise the narrative for his work, West Side Story (1961). This is clear through his use of rivalries between two gangs/households and his use of ill-fated love. Though, there are some distinct differences notably the ending, as the way Tony dies in WSS is not similar to the way Romeo dies, and in WSS, Maria does not die in the end, unlike Juliet, and the racial issues Robbins draws upon.
The main similarity between West Side Story and Romeo and Juliet is the principal theme in the two narratives of rivalry between the two opposing sides. As in Romeo & Juliet’s prologue, it clearly highlights the rivalry between the two opposing families as the main theme, and the devastation to come of it; “Two households, both alike in dignity…from ancient grudge break to new mutiny”. This ‘ancient grudge’ between the Montague’s and the Capulet’s displays a strong link to West Side Story’s Sharks and Jets hostility. Especially because the rivalry between the Montague’s and the Capulet’s was sparked because the Capulet’s thought of themselves as "old money" or aristocracy, whilst Romeo's family (the Montague’s) were up-and-comers- hence this idea that Montague’s were intruding on the Capulet’s territory, like in West Side Story the Jets feel the Sharks are encroaching on their home turf. This is notably illustrated in both West Side Story’s and Romeo & Juliet’s first scenes, in Romeo & Juliet, the social conflict is demonstrated in the first scene at the market place, where the two opposing households have a fight. Likewise, in West Side Story, in the first scene ‘The Prologue’ the rivalry between the Jets and the Sharks is clearly portrayed by the aggressive stances, clenched fists (ready to fight) and intimidating pushes, as both gangs confront each other. With the ratio odd throughout the first scene, the movement is much more intimidating on one side, particularly in the beginning when Bernardo is caught alone with 2 Jets members, they antagonize him, performing mocking movements, allowing him to pass, as they bow and clear the way for him, the tripping him up. This joking and mockery towards each other clearly represents the presence of more serious issues beneath the mockery. This is a particularly significant parallel, as it is also used at the start of the fight scene in Romeo and Juliet, as Tybalt teasingly tries to provoke the Montague’s, playing with his sword and performing mimetic movements of fighting them. These two scenes are vital in demonstrating the main theme and context of both plots; the social issues. Though, West Side Story modernizes the type of enmity, there is a still a strong parallel apparent.
Another noticeable link is the focus on ill-fated love. Romeo & Juliet and West Side Story’s main focus is all about the consequences of doomed love between two opposing households/ gangs. In Romeo & Juliet, the prologue describes Romeo (a Montague) and Juliet’s (a Capulet) as “star-crossed lovers”- due to their families “ancient grudge” their relationship is totally unacceptable and has fatal repercussions. Equally, in West Side Story, Tony (from the Jets gang) and Maria (from the Sharks gang), their love is similarly, ill fated, as their relationship ends in terminal outcomes too. The parallel is further emphasized in the corresponding balcony scenes. In Romeo & Juliet, Romeo sneaks into the Capulet’s garden to find Juliet standing at her balcony- this famous scene it recreated in West Side Story, as Tony finds Maria on her ‘balcony’ as they sing ‘Tonight’ to each other. This is a particularly significant as this is the most well-know scene in Romeo & Juliet, and to reproduce such a similar scene is clearly noticeable and illustrates that West Side Story