10 Groundbreaking Broadway Musicals


'West Side Story' (1957)

West Side Story' musical 1957
A high school dance scene from the 1957 Broadway production of 'West Side Story,' directed by Jerome Robbins. John Springer Collection/CORBIS/Corbis via Getty Images

This show reinterprets Shakespeare's "Romeo and Juliet" for 1950s Manhattan. It follows the short, ill-fated romance of Tony and Maria, incorporating blockbuster singing and dancing. The star-crossed lovers came from completely different ethnic backgrounds: Maria, a Puerto Rican immigrant, is forbidden to love Tony, an American of Polish descent. The musical also delves into the social issues of the time, like gang violence, racism and even police bias — issues that still concern Americans today.

Brilliantly composed by Leonard Bernstein with lyrics by Stephen Sondheim, and directed by Jerome Robbins, "West Side Story" originally was given mixed critical reviews, incredibly taking home only two Tony Awards (for choreography and set design) in 1958. But after the film version starring Natalie Wood debuted in 1961, the tide turned. The movie won 10 Academy Awards, including the Oscar for Best Picture, and the musical was revived on Broadway as a result and still tours today [source: History.com].

One criticism of the original play and movie was that most of the Latin characters were played by whites. The 2009 Broadway revival not only remedied that, but also translated much of the dialogue into Spanish. The person enlisted to do this was none other than Lin-Manuel Miranda, who went on to create another show on our list [source: Pilkington].