CLOSE
getty images
getty images

10 Star-Crossed  Facts About West Side Story

getty images
getty images

After this daring musical made its Big Apple debut on September 26, 1957, critics reacted as if an atomic bomb had gone off over Manhattan. The next day, Walter Kerr of The New York Herald Tribune wrote that “The radioactive fallout from West Side Story must still be descending on Broadway.” Theatergoers were stunned. Here was an edgy, electrifying show with some of the boldest choreography ever staged. An emotional rollercoaster from start to finish, Tony and Maria’s tragic tale has been moving audiences for over half a century.    

1. IT WAS ORIGINALLY GOING TO BE ABOUT A CATHOLIC BOY & A JEWISH GIRL.

Religion and national identity would’ve driven the drama of East Side Story, which is what choreographer Jerome Robbins & composer Leonard Bernstein called the project they started working on in 1949. But eventually they decided that “the whole Jewish-Catholic premise [was] not very fresh” when they were having a poolside meeting in Beverly Hills six years later. Under the California sun, they decided to instead focus on—in Bernstein’s words—“two teenage gangs … one of them newly-arrived Puerto Ricans, the other self-styled ‘Americans.’” Because Manhattan’s eastern neighborhoods had been largely gentrified by then, their production was soon given its present title.

2. THE DIRECTOR INSISTED ON AN UNUSUALLY LONG REHEARSAL PERIOD.

Before opening night, your average 1957 musical cast was only given four or five weeks’ worth of practice. Robbins (who also sat in the director’s chair) demanded eight. “We had a lot of work to do,” he recalled, with the show’s intricate dance sequences requiring extra attention.

3. THE JETS & THE SHARKS WERE PROHIBITED FROM INTERACTING OFFSTAGE.

Robbins tried generating real hostility between these fictitious gangs. According to producer Hal Prince, the Broadway veteran kept both groups of actors as far away from each other as possible. “They were not allowed to socialize out of the theater, [and] they were not allowed to take their lunches together.” Obviously, this was an extreme approach. But over time, it started working.

“One day,” says actor Grover Dale (an original Jet), “the Jets got together and—out of big pieces of cardboard—we built a shark and stuffed it with newspapers and drew on it.” They then hauled their masterpiece up over the stage. From a height of five stories, they patiently waited for the Sharks and Robbins to return from lunch. When everyone arrived, the fake fish landed with a thud at their director/choreographer’s feet and the Jets shouted “Sharks have had it!” As Dale recalls, Robbins couldn’t have been happier. “He just loved it because it was like the homework we were supposed to do kicked in.”

4. FOUR-LETTER WORDS WERE REPLACED WITH INOFFENSIVE JIBBERISH.

Through West Side Story, lyricist Stephen Sondheim wanted the F-bomb to make its musical theater debut. Initially, this choice word appeared in “Gee, Officer Krupke,” but Columbia Records (which released their original cast recording) noted that using such language would violate obscenity laws and—hence—prevent the show from touring across state lines. Defeated, they went with “Krup you!” instead.

5. SPOILER ALERT: MARIA HAD A DELETED DEATH SCENE.

Shakespeare may have killed off both title characters in Romeo & Juliet, but one of West Side Story’s star-crossed lovers lives to see the final curtain drop. Things almost ended much differently. Maria’s untimely suicide was part of an early draft—until composer Richard Rodgers (of Rodgers and Hammerstein fame) offered his two cents. “She’s dead already, after this all happens to her,” he told Robbins.

6. BERNSTEIN PLUCKED "ONE HAND, ONE HEART" FROM A COMPLETELY DIFFERENT MUSICAL.

At the time, he was scoring West Side Story and Candide—which was based on Voltaire’s 1759 novella of the same name—simultaneously. Though Bernstein crafted “One Hand, One Heart” for that production, he repurposed it as a romantic duet between Tony and Maria. In exchange, "O Happy We," which was originally a duet for West Side Story, moved to the first act of Candide.

7. “SOMETHING'S COMING” WAS WRITTEN LAST-MINUTE.

Just 12 days before West Side Story premiered in D.C. (it’d debut in New York later), Bernstein and Sondheim wrote Tony’s hopeful ballad. Their inspiration came from a piece of dialogue that the character was to deliver during his first scene. The line, as penned by playwright Arthur Laurents, went like this: “Something’s coming, it may be around the corner, whistling down the river, twitching at the dance—who knows?” When asked if he’d mind letting the sentence get turned into a number, he enthusiastically replied “Yes, take it, take it, make it a song.” This late arrival had to be re-orchestrated several times, making it a bit of a headache for the pit band.

8. AUDREY HEPBURN WAS TAPPED TO PLAY MARIA FOR THE FILM VERSION.

In 1959, the screen legend was pregnant—and because she’d already suffered two miscarriages, Hepburn wasn’t about to over-exert herself this time. So, when she was offered the lead role in what would arguably become the most celebrated movie musical ever shot, she declinedRebel Without a Cause star Natalie Wood got the part instead, with Marni Nixon dubbing over her singing voice.

9. WEST SIDE STORY'S 1961 CINEMATIC ADAPTATION SET AN ACADEMY AWARDS RECORD.

Seven months after its release, the flick brought home 10 Oscars, including Best Director, Best Cinematography, and even Best Picture. Thus, it won more than any other musical ever had in Academy Award history. As of this writing, the distinction still stands.

10. A BILINGUAL REVIVAL OPENED ON BROADWAY IN 2009.

Laurents joined forces with producers Kevin McCollum, Jeffrey Seller, and James L. Nederlander to retell the story he’d helped craft over 50 years earlier. This time, he leveled the playing field. “I thought it would be terrific if we could equalize the gangs somehow,” he explained. By letting the Sharks speak and sing in their native language during large chunks of the musical, Laurents hoped to do exactly that. Like the original, after a run in Washington, D.C. the show moved to New York, where it ran for 748 performances, wrapping up on January 2, 2011. 

nextArticle.image_alt|e
Kevork Djansezian, Getty Images
arrow
Pop Culture
"Weird Al" Yankovic Is Getting the Funko Treatment
Kevork Djansezian, Getty Images
Kevork Djansezian, Getty Images

Though the New York Toy Fair—the largest trade show for playthings in the western hemisphere—won't officially kick off until Saturday, February 17, kids and kids-at-heart are already finding much to get excited about as the world's biggest toy companies ready to unleash their newest wares on the world. One item that has gotten us—and fans of fine parody songs everywhere—excited is "Weird Al" Yankovic's induction into the Funko Pop! family. The accordion-loving songwriter behind hits like "Eat It," "White & Nerdy," "Amish Paradise," and "Smells Like Nirvana" shared the news via Twitter, and included what we can only hope is a final rendering of his miniaturized, blockheaded vinyl likeness:

In late December, Funko announced that a Weird Al toy would be coming in 2018 as part of the beloved brand's Pop Rocks series. Though we know he'll be joined by Alice Cooper, Kurt Cobain, Elton John, and the members of Mötley Crüe, there's no word yet on exactly when you’ll be able to get your hands on Pop! Al. But knowing that he's coming is enough … for now.

nextArticle.image_alt|e
New Line Cinema
arrow
entertainment
11 Fun Facts About The Wedding Singer
New Line Cinema
New Line Cinema

On February 13, 1998, Adam Sandler gave Valentine’s Day sweethearts a retro treat with The Wedding Singer, a 1980s-set rom-com about a heartbroken wedding singer named Robbie Hart (Sandler) who falls in love with a waitress/bride-to-be whose married name will leave her as Julia Gulia (Drew Barrymore).

At this point in Sandler’s career, he was known more for his puerile comedies like Happy Gilmore and Billy Madison, not as a romantic leading man. The Wedding Singer changed all that. After earning its $18 million budget back during its opening weekend alone, The Wedding Singer went on to gross $123 million worldwide—making it Sandler’s highest-grossing movie to date at the time.

Besides being a bona fide box office hit, the film’s two ’80s-heavy soundtracks—which included tunes by The Police, David Bowie, The Psychedelic Furs, New Order, and The Smiths—were also popular. For the film’s 20th anniversary, here are 11 fun facts about The Wedding Singer.

1. THE DIRECTOR’S OWN REAL-LIFE HEARTBREAK ALLOWED HIM TO TAP INTO THE FILM’S EMOTION.

Longtime Sandler friend and collaborator Frank Coraci directed The Wedding Singer, and said that his own experience with having his heart broken was part of what allowed him to tap into the movie’s unique balance of humor and heartfelt romance.

“I remember lying in bed and not being able to move, so it was easy to tap into that pretty quickly,” Coraci told The Hollywood News of his own heartbreak, which happened a couple of years before the movie came along. “I think the distance between those two things was good. It let me look at it differently and allowed it to be funny. I think if had happened before, The Wedding Singer would have been one seriously depressing movie.”

2. THE IDEA TO SET THE FILM IN THE 1980S CAME FROM THE RADIO.

The Wedding Singer was written by Tim Herlihy, a longtime collaborator of Sandler’s who, in addition to writing for Saturday Night Live, wrote the scripts for Billy Madison, Happy Gilmore, and The Waterboy (among other Sandler-starring films). Sandler mentioned to Herlihy that he wanted to do “a film about a wedding singer who gets left at the altar.” For his part, Herlihy let the radio inspire him. “I was listening to the radio show Lost in the ’80s, and I said, ‘I want to do a movie set in the 1980s. So of course, we thought, ‘Why don’t we do a story about a wedding singer in the 1980s?’”

3. SANDLER WANTED TO MAKE A “PRO-LOVE” FILM.

While promoting the movie on Late Night With Conan O’Brien in 1998, Sandler said, “We wanted to make a romantic comedy that was heavy on the laughs. It was nice to do a movie that was pro-marriage and pro-love.” He explained men have a difficult time falling in love. “You got guys who say they don’t want to be in love, but those are usually guys who have been hurt before.”

4. THE MOVIE DOESN’T FEATURE ANY SEX SCENES, AND THERE’S A REASON FOR THAT.

In the same interview, Conan O’Brien asked Sandler why there weren’t any sex scenes in the film, which seemed odd for a rom-com. Sandler was candid with his answer: “The main reason for not having a sex scene is I’m not good at sex,” he said. “I started when I was pretty young and I was always like, you’ll get better. And I got older and it’s still not good.”

5. BARRYMORE APPROACHED SANDLER ABOUT WORKING TOGETHER.

Since the release of The Wedding Singer, Sandler and Drew Barrymore have gone on to star in 50 First Dates (2004) and Blended (2014) together, but their original collaboration was really the actress’s doing. Barrymore told Howard Stern she was interested in working with Sandler because “[I thought] I want to be a modern weird Hepburn, Tracy old Hollywood couple.” Sandler agreed to meet with her. “We looked like the worst blind date you’ve ever seen,” Barrymore recalled, referencing how she had purple hair and wore a leopard coat. Still, as Barrymore told The Huffington Post, she was convinced that she and Sandler were “cinematic soul mates,” and wasn’t afraid to tell him so. Soon after this meeting, the script for The Wedding Singer came along.

6. THE “RAPPING GRANNY” LIVED TO BE 101.

At the age of 84, Ellen Albertini Dow portrayed Robbie’s neighbor Rosie, a.k.a. “The Rapping Granny.” During a wedding scene in the movie, Rosie gets on stage and raps to The Sugar Hill Gang’s “Rapper’s Delight.” However, when the filmmakers asked Dow to perform the rap, she admitted she wasn’t familiar with that style of music.

In a 2008 radio interview, she recounted how Sandler and Coraci approached her with the idea. They told her, “‘We think it might be funny for an older woman to do rap,’” Dow explained. “And I said, ‘What is that?’ I had no idea what rap was. They took me to a soundstage and handed me this rap song. I went in the booth and it was very foreign to me. I said, ‘Can I move a little to it?’ They said, ‘Oh, sure.’ I’m not bragging, but I danced all my life, and I played the piano, so I know music. I started to move to it and I got it right it away. I got it very fast and loved it and had fun with it.” Her rapping success led to her rapping in a Life Savers commercial, and she even considered recording a rap record for children. In 2015, Dow died at the age of 101.

7. IT’S THE FIRST SANDLER FILM TO INCLUDE A FEMALE PERSPECTIVE.

In previous Sandler films, women mainly existed only as love interests. Herlihy, however, changed that with The Wedding Singer. “Drew elevated things for us,” the screenwriter told Esquire. “The scenes with her and Christine [Taylor]—the scenes with her without Adam—[were all great]. You look at the first movies and there’s not a lot without Adam because we did test screening and they said, ‘Get rid of that scene.’ But this time with Drew we were able to do that and have those scenes survive to the movie.”

8. THE CREATORS OF THE WEDDING SINGER BROADWAY MUSICAL KNEW IT WAS “BORN TO SING.”

The success of the film inspired a Broadway musical adaptation that ended up earning five Tony Award nominations and eight Drama Desk Award nods. Matthew Sklar composed the music, and Chad Beguelin wrote the lyrics and co-wrote the book with Herlihy. It premiered in Seattle in January 2006 and then officially opened on Broadway in April 2006.

In the fall of 2007, the musical toured nationally, then eventually landed overseas in London, Abu Dhabi, the Philippines, and Australia. Beguelin said the musical came from him pitching a movie idea to New Line Cinema. “They asked me, ‘What would you do with our catalogue?’ Well, I thought The Wedding Singer was born to sing,” he said. They felt a musical could convey stronger feelings than what was on the screen. “In the movie, you get a close-up of Drew Barrymore looking distraught at her reflection in a wedding dress, but you can’t do that on stage,” Beguelin said. “That’s where you write a song.”

9. BARRYMORE WANTED THE AUDIENCE TO “HOLD THE BOWL OF LOVE.”

In a 1998 interview, Barrymore explained what drew her to the character of Julia: “She has an ease that follows her and that’s the energy that she exudes, and I really, really like that about her. And she’s a happy girl.”

Barrymore further said she wanted people to be happy and for the movie to cause the audience “to hold the bowl of love and have those hearts in their eyes and all of that good mushy stuff we live for."

10. BILLY IDOL STARRED IN THE FILM TO APPEASE HIS SON—AND TEENAGERS.

Billy Idol, whose song “White Wedding” appears on the soundtrack, portrays himself during a climactic scene on a plane. “My son loved Adam Sandler and I thought: ‘I’m going to have to see it anyway, so why not be in it?,’” Idol said. “I gained a number of diehard teenage fans through doing it, who are adults now and are still turning up to my gigs.”

“There’s something about Billy Idol hanging on a plane, knocking back champagne, and getting involved with my love life,” Sandler said of Idol’s cameo. “Everybody thought that’d be fun.”

11. BOY GEORGE WAS A FAN OF BOY GEORGE.

In the film, transgender actress Alexis Arquette played a character named George, who had similarities to the iconic Culture Club frontman Boy George. Wedding Singer George even sings the band’s 1982 hit song “Do You Really Want to Hurt Me” at a wedding in the movie. Arquette passed away on September 11, 2016, and around the same time the real Boy George paid homage to the actress at a concert in Maryland. He dedicated “Do You Really Want to Hurt Me” to Alexis and her family.

“Alexis played me in The Wedding Singer, very hilariously,” he said. “When I went to [see] The Wedding Singer, I didn’t know what was going to happen. When I saw Alexis doing an impersonation of me, I was rolling around on the floor laughing.”

SECTIONS

arrow
LIVE SMARTER
More from mental floss studios