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There's a place for us,
It may seem Older Than Steam, with more than a few elements that you may recognize from other works. It is also a great example of Seinfeld Is Unfunny, with many modern audiences not understanding why it was such a groundbreaking musical in its time. It is recognized as the leader in using dance to further the plot, thanks to Jerome Robbins' choreography, and is also recognized for portraying minority characters (relatively) positively, using vulgar language and slang, and not being a particularly feel-good musical.
Two gangs, one Polish-American (Jets) and the other Puerto Rican (Sharks), are fighting over territory on Manhattan's West Side when Tony, a member of the Jets, falls in love with Maria, the younger sister of the Sharks' leader Bernardo. Unfortunately for the young couple, they happen to fall in love on the very night the two gangs decide to end their feud in one final battle. Tony manages to persuade the two gangs to reduce it to a one-on-one "fair fight" but when Maria tells Tony to stop the fight altogether his attempt to intervene results in the leader of the Jets, his best friend Riff, getting knifed to death by Bernardo. In a fit of rage, Tony then kills Bernardo in return.
Act Two begins with Maria finding out about Bernardo's death from her arranged fiance, Chino, who then vows to kill Tony. Tony turns up and they spend the night together. After we find out what happened to the Jets, we meet up with the lovers. Bernardo's girlfriend Anita shows up, and Tony escapes, with a plan to escape to the country. Anita, despite hating Tony for killing Bernardo, agrees to tell Tony to stay at the drugstore he works at until Maria arrives. When she gets there however, she is nearly raped by the Jets that have gathered there. In a fit of rage, she says that Maria is dead, killed by Chino. Tony's boss tells Tony this, and he runs out into the street, calling for Chino to 'kill him, too.' Maria and Tony meet each other in the street, but before they can embrace, Chino steps from the shadows and kills Tony. Maria denounces both sides of the conflict for their part in Tony's death, and for how "we all killed him," not with guns, not with knives, but with hate. Thoroughly heartbroken, the Jets and Sharks together carry out Tony's body. The End.
Notable for some of the most famous songs in musical theater, such as "Tonight," "America" and "I Feel Pretty", with music by Leonard Bernstein and lyrics by Stephen Sondheim. The film would be remade in 2021 with Latino actors playing the Sharks and directed by Steven Spielberg.
This production contains examples of:
- Accidental Murder: In the fistfight-that-wasn't.
- Actually Pretty Funny: Riff laughs at Bernardo's request for Lieutenant Shrank to translate his dressing-down into Spanish. (Your Mileage May Vary on whether Riff is a protagonist, or Bernardo is).
- Adults Are Useless: It's Lampshaded by the stage directions at the end:
The adults - DOC, SHRANK, KRUPKE, and GLAD HAND - stand alone, useless.
- Angry Mob Song: "Tonight" and the latter half of the "Jet Song"
- A Tragedy of Impulsiveness: In particular, Tony's murder of Bernardo.
- Attempted Rape: Anita is attacked and nearly raped by the Jets when she heads to Doc's to tell Tony to wait for Maria. This angers her and drives her to hate them badly enough that when Doc returns and stops it, Anita lies to them about how Chino shot Maria, which sets up the final tragedy.
- Bad Cop, Incompetent Cop: Shrank's the bad cop, a racist who wants the Sharks run out of town but isn't exactly crazy about the Jets either, and who cares most of all about getting a promotion. Krupke's the incompetent cop, never once doing anything successfully.
- Ballroom Blitz: Very nearly happens, but the cops break it up.
- Beta Couple: Bernardo and Anita
- Blond Brunette Redhead: The three Jets girlfriends who dance in "Cool".
- Bowdlerise: In the 1961 film only, as the 2021 film uses the uncensored lyrics.
- Anita's lines in "Tonight" are changed from "He'll walk in hot and tired, so what / No matter if he's tired, as long as he's hot" to "He'll walk in hot and tired, poor dear / No matter if he's tired, as long as he's here."
- And in "Gee, Officer Krupke", the line "My father is a bastard / My ma's an SOB / My grandpa's always plastered / My grandma pushes tea" is changed to "My daddy bashes mommy / My mommy clobbers me / My grandpa is a Commie / My grandma pushes tea."
- And in the "Jet Song" the lines "When you're a Jet / And the spit hits the fan / You got brothers around / You're a family man" are changed to "When you're a Jet / Let them do what they can / You got brothers around / You're a family man." Particularly funny given that "spit" in the original was probably changed from...
- The writers of the original movie took the line, "Trusting with our hearts open! With our arms open!" - "You came with your legs open!" and replaced "legs" with, "mouth."
- Furthermore, Stephen Sondheim originally wanted to end the song "Gee, Officer Krupke, fuck you!" but it was changed to "Krup you!" (He comments in his book of the lyrics, that he thought the "Krupp" change was for the better). "Krup you" remains in the 2021 remake.
- Break the Cutie: Maria and Anita. Chino arguably counts as well.
- Butch Lesbian: While some of Anybodys' lines imply she's heterosexual or bi, she fits the look, and acts in a comparatively "masculine" manner for her time and place.
- The character could very likely be a trans boy rather than an actual woman, too. It's something that can vary from production to production. The 2021 remake explicitly makes Anybodys a trans man.
- Call-and-Response Song: "America." In the stage version, Rosalia sings about how great Puerto Rico was and the other women sing about how America is better. In the film, the women sing about America's positive qualities and the men sing about its xenophobia.
- Category Traitor: Maria is pressured to marry Chino simply because they are from the same ethnic group. When she falls in love with an outsider, all hell breaks lose. Interestingly, Chino never get any Entitled to Have You lines, but that's probably because he's such a minor role in the first place.
- Chekhov's Gunman: Chino
- Colour-Coded for Your Convenience: Purple and red for the Sharks, Yellow and blue for the Jets. Most obvious at the dance, but still subtly present in other scenes.
- Combat by Champion: How the climactic rumble at the end of Act I was "supposed" to go.
- Crapsack World:
Doc: When do you kids stop?! You make this world lousy!
- Cycle of Vengeance: As best as can be determined from each side's self-serving account, the conflict began when the Jets attacked Bernardo the day he moved to the West Side (though the Jets would say Bernardo began it by moving there.) Bernardo created the Sharks to oppose them, but by the time the movie begins both sides have become virtually indistinguishable, and each is concerned only with vengeance on the other for whatever the other's last act of vengeance on them was. In the reprise of "Tonight," each side sings the line "They began it."
- They also sing the exact same music on that line, suggesting that the genesis of each gang's hatred is basically identical.
- Dance of Romance: Tony and Maria, though it is a cha-cha and not the more standard waltz.
- Dark Reprise: "America" and "Somewhere"
- Died in Your Arms Tonight: In the movie, at least, Tony dies as Maria holds him.
- Digital Destruction: To put it bluntly, every 21st century physical media release of the 1961 film has at least one flaw. Most infamously, the extremely common single-disc 2003 DVD is in Pan and Scan, the Special Edition DVD released the same year plays "Tonight" out of sync, and the 50th Anniversary Blu-ray has the screen turn black during a few seconds of the overture.
- Dirty Cop: Lt. Schrank only barely holds the Jets in higher esteem than the Sharks. To him, they're all immigrant scum.
- Distant Duet: "Tonight"
- Double Entendre: "Hey! I got a social disease!", referring of course, to juvenile delinquency, but the term Social Disease can also mean something very different...
- Downer Ending: Sure, the fighting's over, but three people are dead. Word of God has it that Maria kills herself as well. In the 2021 remake, Anita heads back to Puerto Rico after the events of the film.
- Dream Ballet: "Somewhere"
- Enforced Method Acting: While filming the original movie, the actors playing the Jets and the Sharks were roomed separately in order to heighten the tension between the two groups.
- Amazingly averted in "Anita's Rape Scene." In that scene, the actress playing Anita, Rita Moreno, was reduced to tears as a result of shooting that scene, as it brought back memories of when she was raped as a child. When she started crying, the actors playing the Jets immediately stopped what they were doing and began comforting her, while pointing out that the viewers were going to hate them for what they were doing.
- Enter Stage Window: Naturally, considering it's based on the Ur Example.
- Expy; Every single character corresponds to one in "Romeo & Juliet", as do many of the scenes and sequences. The most obvious being that Tony=Romeo while Maria=Juliet, while the Jets=Montagues and the Sharks=Capulets, but there are others:
- Characters: Bernado=Tybalt, Anita=Nurse/Lady Capulet, Riff=Mercutio, Chino=Paris, etc.
- Scenes/Storylines: the opening fight, Juliet/Maria's betrothal to Paris/Chino, Juliet's debut party=Maria's first dance, the balcony scene=the fire escape scene, Romeo & Juliet's elopement (The Friar corresponds to Doc)= Tony and Maria acting out a wedding, Tybalt/Bernado killing Mercutio/Riff, Romeo/Tony killing Tybalt/Bernado, the Nurse being taunted and insulted by the Montagues and thus unable to tell Romeo that Juliet's death is faked=Anita being assaulted by the Jets and thus lying about Maria's death, leading to Romeo/Tony's suicidal response.
- Fake Nationality: In the film, Maria is played by Natalie Wood, who was a Russian-American. And then there's the Greco-American George Chakiris as Bernardo.
- Final Love Duet: "Somewhere" reprise.
- Freudian Excuse: "Gee, Officer Krupke" begins with this, but eventually subverts it with an admission that the Jets really just aren't interested in honest work.
- Friendly Enemy: Despite the hatred between the two gangs, this trope is displayed in two noteworthy scenes. One, in which Bernardo mouths off to Shrank. Riff and the other Jets are visibly amused by this. Later, after Shrank has insulted Bernardo, it's Riff who restrains Bernardo from attacking him.
- Gang of Hats: Both gangs have their own dance style.
- Have a Gay Old Time: "I feel pretty and witty and gay" - only in the Robert Wise movie. In the stage play that number takes place at night ("bright").
- He Went That Way!
- "I Am" Song: "Jet Song"
- The Ingenue: Maria, initially. When Tony asks her if she's "making a joke" in their Love At First Sight moment, she replies, "I have not yet learned how to joke that way." (i.e. she is too inexperienced to be anything but sincere). Her family is very concerned with protecting her, especially from 'a boy like that' who only 'wants one thing.' Her naive expectation that love-struck Tony can stop the rumble has tragic consequences for everyone.
- "I Want" Song: "Something's Coming" and "Somewhere"
- Lampshaded Double Entendre: The chance to exaggerate the line "Cause no one wants a fella with a social disease!" in Gee, Officer Krupke is passed over in the movie, but in stage productions, actors will sometimes do a suggestive shuffle on the floor, cover their crotches, or whatever other creativity the choreographer comes up with. Especially common in high schools, of course.
- Lipstick and Load Montage: In the reprise of "Tonight" in The Movie, Anita has a L&LM song while the gangs prepare for the rumble.
- Love At First Sight: Just in case you didn't get it, cinematographer Daniel L. Fapp made the rest of the dancers hazy, only making sure that Tony and Maria were in focus. The 2021 remake instead has the two lovers hiding behind the seats.
- Malt Shop: Doc's Drugstore.
- Massive Multiplayer Ensemble Number: "Tonight"
- Mob War
- Mood Whiplash: in the original stage play and remake, "I Feel Pretty" takes place RIGHT after the rumble and just before Maria learns Tony killed Bernardo. "Gee, Officer Krupke" also takes place after the rumble in the play only. These were moved to before the rumble in the original film.
- That being said, the movie still has a little bit of mood whiplash after the rumble. It cuts from Riff and Bernardo lying dead, to Maria dancing wistfully on a rooftop. Since this dance only lasts a minute at most, until Chino appears to deliver some tragic news, the amount of mood whiplash still feels significantly smaller than it did in the play and remake.
- Moral Myopia: Tony and Maria are respectively the only members of the Jets and the Sharks who show any sympathy for the other side.
- My God, What Have I Done?: Tony, after killing Bernardo.
- My Sister Is Off-Limits
- Never Bring a Knife to A Fist Fight: Averted. They do. And two main characters get killed off.
- Nice Job Breaking It, Hero: Tony successfully stops an all-out war with knives and guns, by suggesting that they merely have the strongest of the two sides fistfight. It seems like nothing worse could happen than a broken nose or two. But then Maria objects even to this, saying that any fighting is bad, and although Tony can see it leading nowhere nice to stop them, he does it because he loves her. Fast-forward. Rather than a simple fistfight, three people are dead, one is arrested and will most likely be hanged for murder, the two gangs hate each other even more (until they reconcile) and Maria survives the movie.
- One of the Boys: Anybodys tries to be this, with limited success.
- One-Scene Wonder: The unnamed girl in the song "Somewhere".
- Also John Astin as the MC at the dance.
- Only Sane Man: Doc sees that events are spiraling into mayhem, and is increasingly frustrated by his inability to affect anything.
- Opening Ballet: Used to communicate the relationship between the Jets and the Sharks.
- Parental Abandonment: Heavily implied with Riff.
- Poirot Speak: The Puerto Ricans litter their English with. For examples, "por favor?", "una poca" and "si".
- Averted in the current revival, in which both the songs "I Feel Pretty" and "A Boy Like That/I Have A Love" are both sung entirely in Spanish, in addition to most scenes featuring only the Sharks being spoken in Spanish.
- Due to negative feedback the songs were changed back into English in August 2009, but the spoken scenes remain in Spanish. This reaction could possibly have been avoided if they had displayed subtitles for the audience.
- Politically-Incorrect Villain: Lieutenant Shrank.
- Poor Communication Kills: Boy did it ever here.
- The Power of Hate: Anita, after her near-gang rape.
"Bernardo was right. If one of you was lying in the street bleeding, I'd walk by and spit on you."
- Maria reveals she finally understands this when she raises her gun.
- Rabid Cop: Shrank can run into this trope at times, especially when he shows himself willing to beat up the kids.
Let him go, buddy boy. Let him go. One of these days, Action, there ain't gonna be nobody to hold you back.
- Say My Name: "Maria," of course.
- Screw the Rules, I Make Them: "Yeah, yeah, 'It's a free country, you got no right.' Well, I got a badge. What do you got?"
- Setting Update: Romeo And Juliet IN TWENTIETH-CENTURY NEW YORK CITY! AS A MUSICAL!
- Sexy Discretion Shot: At the end of "Somewhere", Tony and Maria embrace passionately and sink from view. By the time the scene fades back in, it's pretty obvious what's happened.
- Shave and a Haircut: "Gee Of-fi-cer Krup-ke, Krup You!"
- Society Is to Blame: "Gee, Officer Krupke"
- Spicy Latina: Anita
- Take It to the Bridge: The rumble at the underpass.
- The Team Wannabe: Anybodys
- Theme Tune Cameo: When Anita arrives at the drugstore, the jukebox is playing the "Mambo" music. Also, as Doc comes downstairs, Tony whistles "Maria" to himself.
- The Song Before the Storm: Again, "Tonight"
- Tenor Boy: Tony
- Tomboy: Anybodys.
- Totally Radical: The Jets sing and speak in a mixture of real 50s slang and some the writer made up. It still sounds silly.
- The made up slang was employed to avert this trope, since slang that was never actually popular slang can't become dated slang.
- Truce Zone: The school gym is neutral territory for both gangs.
- Unusual Euphemism
- When I Was Your Age
Doc: Why, when I was your age--
- White Gang-Bangers
- Wide-Eyed Idealist: Glad Hand, who tries and fails to get the gangs to befriend each other.