The stage book was rewritten and adapted for the screen by Ernest Lehman, and the film retained the beautiful and electrifying musical score, songs and lyrics of Leonard Bernstein and Stephen Sondheim. It was co-directed by two clashing individuals from the start – veteran director Robert Wise and friar lawrence essay choreographer Jerome Robbins.
The singing of both leads was dubbed: Jimmy Bryant for former child actor Richard Beymer, and Marni Nixon for Natalie Wood, and the vocals by Rita Moreno were enhanced by Betty Wand for “A Boy Like That”. The much-praised, box-office blockbuster for United Artists received eleven Academy Award nominations and won all but one – Best Adapted Screenplay. In the famous, dazzling opening sequence, they gradually break into a highly-stylized dance and then burst into a daring, high-stepping sequence – an exhilarating, inventive, visual ballet of pirouettes, vigorous athletic moves, and running jumps that symbolizes their dominance and energy – they are readying themselves for a gang brawl. He is joined by his gang members, and they pick up the beat by clicking their fingers. The gangs both are vying for control of the streets, alternating between dominance and submission. Schrank: You hoodlums don’t own these streets. And I’ve had all the rough-house I can put up with around here.
You want to kill each other? Kill each other, but you ain’t gonna do it on my beat. Would you mind translating that into Spanish? Schrank: Get your friends out of here, Bernardo – and stay out – please. Schrank: Boy, as if this neighborhood wasn’t crummy enough.