There are some important differences between Romeo & Juliet and West Side Story, however.
A) Unlike in Romeo & Juliet, where Romeo drinks poison, but survives, Juliet, thinking that Romeo has died, stabs herself
to death, and neither of them survive, West Side Story's Tony dies after being shot and killed by Shark gang member, Chino, in retaliation for his having stabbed Shark gang leader, Bernardo, to death, after Tony knifed Bernardo to death for having killed his close buddy, Riff, while Maria survives....
B) West Side Story is set in 1950’s-1960’s New York City’s (i. e. Manhattan) West Side, between two warring street gangs;
the White European Ethnic American Jets, and the newly arrived Puerto Rican Sharks, both of whom are vying for the small piece of turf, or the crumbs left to them by United States society at large. Romeo & Juliet, on the other hand, is set in the city of Verona, Italy.
C) Romeo & Juliet is a regular play, written by William Shakespeare, back in the 1800’s, with much poetry to it. West Side Story, on the other hand, which began as and is a very famous late-1950’s Broadway stage musical, which was based on a stage play by the late Arthur Laurents, with an intensely brilliant musical score composed by the late Leonard Bernstein, and lyrics by Stephen Sondheim, and was made into an equally beautiful (and spectacular) movie 4 years later, after Walter Mirisch bought the rights to the film version.
D) Although both Romeo and Juliet and West Side Story are about forbidden love and romance across tribal barriers and loyalties and constant feuding on both sides, the very story behind West Side Story, both on stage and on screen, due to being a musical, was much more fleshed out, both on stage and screen, with the use of creative scenery/settings for both the stage productions and the film, beautifully choreographed dancing by the late Jerome Robbins, the intensely brilliant Leonard Bernstein musical score, beautifully done cinematography by Daniel Fapp for the film, and the richly-colored costumes designed by Irene Scharaff.
E) Because West Side Story is set on the pulsating West Side of 1950’s-1960’s New York City, here in the United States rather than a very old European city (i. e. Verona, Italy) and was about two warring street gangs, as well as a love/romance that developed between two people who were affiliated with each of the gangs, there was much more room to really flesh out the very story behind West Side Story, thus leaving room for exuberance, arrogance, cockiness, conflict with the law, issues of substance abuse and alcoholism, urban gang warfare, racial/ethnic tensions, and the showdown in the form of a Rumble, fleeing from and hiding out from the law, as well as the deaths during the Rumble, Chino gunning down Tony, and several Jets & Sharks coming together to carry Tony’s body off, and Chino being escorted to a waiting police car.
F) West Side Story, unlike Romeo and Juliet (which is about forbidden love between two people from two different families of from the same country, city and ethnicity), was about forbidden love between two people affiliated with gangs of two different racial backgrounds, as well as different cultures/ethnicities and places.
Yet, there are similarities, as well, between West Side Story and Romeo & Juliet, as well:
A) Forbidden love that develops amid feuding and tribal/familial loyalties, with resulting violence, a showdown (a duel by sword), deaths on both sides, and finally, reconciliation, after recognizing that hatred makes no sense.
B) The settings of both Romeo & Juliet and West Side Story in urban areas.
C) Emotions on both sides running high; love between the two suitors, and the feuding families.
D) Juliet becomes Maria, and Romeo becomes Tony
E) Juliet’s nurse becomes Maria’s girlfriend and confidence, Anita.
F) Looking for death after believing that their true love has died, and not wanting to live any more.
G) The Montagues and the Capulets become NYC’s White European American Jets and the newly-arrived Puerto Rican Sharks.
Although many people claim that West Side Story is a hip or a modern-day version of Romeo & Juliet that is set in the United States’ largest city, New York, on the West Side, I believe that there are too many differences between West Side Story and Romeo & Juliet to really call it that with a straight face, and yet I am aware that one is based on the other.