The ‘West Side Story’ Story: Past, Present, and Future

Brandeis University

Gil Harel is a musicologist and music theorist who lectures widely at Brandeis University and additional venues on topics ranging from renaissance motets to atonal opera. A piano accompanist and vocal coach, Professor Harel’s musical interests range from western classical repertoire to musical theater and jazz. Previously, he has served on the faculty at the Southwestern University of Finance and Economics in Chengdu, China, and at CUNY Baruch College, where he was awarded the prestigious “Presidential Excellence Award for Distinguished Teaching.”



Few musicals in the Broadway canon have had the impact of West Side Story. Inspired by Shakespeare’s Romeo and Juliet, this 20th century tale of forbidden love was the product of a massive collaboration between some of the biggest names in the history of the genre, including Leonard Bernstein, Stephen Sondheim, Arthur Laurents, Jerome Robbins, and more. Historians often describe West Side Story as a watershed work that changed the trajectory of Broadway through the introduction of especially intricate and challenging music and dance. It also cast a spotlight on complex social and racial issues which were, for that time, taboo and rare in the theater. Though set in the 1950s, the timelessness of the story is reflected in the fact that it has experienced no fewer than eight revivals since its 1957 premier (including an ephemeral and ill-fated early 2020 run). Indeed, West Side Story is as topical as ever, with audiences anticipating a Spielberg-directed cinematic adaptation slated for release in December 2021. Join Professor Gil Harel as he examines the legacy of this remarkable work: how it came together, how it has evolved and remained relevant, and finally, how the story has been and might be adapted in future incarnations.



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Tania De La Torre

Not what I expected

Mostly commented on the WSS of the 1950s, very little on the present and nothing of the future. I can see musicologists liking the presenter’s explanation of the 3-tone song and other examples he sang bits of but I think much more important would have been contrasting the society of the 1950s with today’s. He only mentioned the term “white gang” then not having same meaning today. He commented at length the affirmation of a guest that most songwriters were Jewish with little time for more relevant questions about WSS. Perhaps a Sociology Professor would have been a better choice. May I suggest a repeat contrasting the 1950s film with the one that just came out as West Side Story: Then & Now.

2 years ago
Leah Wolf

excellent and enthusiastic presentation

I feel privileged to attend this lecture. It increased my appreciation of the work. Tonight I feel smarter going to bed than I was this morning as a result of this lecture.

2 years ago
Lawrence Harris


While Brubeck’s interpretation is excellent , try Andre Previn & Friends

2 years ago
barbara ann.fields

Excellent Presentation

As your area of expertise is music, I feel you did the subject justice.
Even though the play had an underlying theme of social tension, and you handled that aspect impartially, I believe your discussion on the music was spot on. Thank you…..

7 months ago
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