Jerome Robbins and Robert Wise filming in New York, August 1960
Photo from Life Magazine
Putting a stage musical on the screen represents challenges. When you're in the live theater, you have the proscenium arch up there, you're once-removed from reality. The screen is a very real medium and doesn't take kindly to stylization. One of the things we struggled with the most in West Side Story was how to take all the highly stylized aspects of it and deal with them effectively in the reality of the screen. On the stage, you can have characters break out of a dialogue scene, and go right into song and dance and you don't feel a twinge of embarrassment, but you can feel that on screen. On the stage, the turf that the kids fight over were stylized sets. There was no way I could realistically open the film without opening it in the real New York streets...I had a hard sell with the Mirisch Company, but we were allowed to do it in the New York locations. Jerry said to me, "I agree with you completely about the need to open it in New York, but you gave me the biggest challenge to take my most stylized dancing and put it against the most real background that we have in the whole picture".