In fact, the very story behind West Side Story is about as untraditional as one can get. Not very many musicals tell such a poignant story about star-crossed lovers that are caught in the middle of constant urban gang warfare, in the United States' largest city, New York City, on the West Side. The fact that the very story behind West Side Story has so many different facets to it is what makes it so beautiful and untraditional, as well. The attempts on the part of Tony and Maria to stay together despite the tribal/ethnic loyalties and friendships among each gang, and the concomitant racial/ethnic hatred and violence that result from such tight tribal and ethnic loyalties and friendships that cause Tony and Maria's romance to be short-lived and to go up in smoke are something that go on in real life every day. Even in real life, such forbidden love sometimes stay together, and some fall apart, due to such hatred and hostiles, as well.
More traditional musicals/stories about romance seem a lot more one-sided and far less three-dimensional than West Side Story as a story and as a movie-musical. South Pacific, as well as My Fair Lady and the Sound of Music, for example, seems more traditional than West Side Story, because they seem to be constantly light, with very little, if any sporadic darkness in between the periods of light. West Side Story, for example, goes from light to dark, and then slightly back again later, towards the end of this movie-musical, when the Jets and Sharks, in the wake of the deaths of Riff, Bernardo and Tony during and after the rumble, eventually sense that it's time for some type of a truce between them. The ray of hope in the end, which hints of the possibility of some sort of truce and the formation of friendships between the Jets and Sharks is also a very important message in the end, because it helps give a more complete wrap-up to the story behind West Side Story, as a movie-musical, on the whole.
West Side Story has a different approach to life, in general, due to the fact that it goes from light to dark, ranging from youthful exuberance, with a touch of roughness and plenty of toughness on the part of both the Jets and Sharks, to conflict with the law, to a pre-Rumble War Council at Doc's Candy Store that culminates in the exchange of ethnic slurs, and the roughness of the bigoted, cynical Lt. Schrank, as he not only banishes Bernardo from the Candy store but shows his hatred of the Jets as well as the Sharks, to the Rumble itself with the resulting 3 deaths of Riff, Bernardo, and, ultimately, Tony, in the end, to the near-rape of Anita by the Jets as she tries, without avail to help protect Tony from Chino, who is gunning for him in retaliation for Tony's having knifed Bernardo to death, plus the ray of hope in the form of a possible truce and friendship developing between the Jets and Sharks in the end, in the wake of the three deaths.
Of course, the Sound of Music and South Pacific, as well as My Fair Lady, are strictly about romance and its ups and downs, without the urban setting and constant gang warfare as the backdrop for the story, although South Pacific does also deal with racism, and The Sound of Music deals with the Nazism that existed back then, when the Nazis occupied Austria, Poland, Germany and almost all of the European countries. My Fair Lady, on the other hand, seems to be about romance that constantly goes up and down.
Of course, with the exception of My Fair Lady and West Side Story, both of which are set in big cities, South Pacific and The Sound of Music are both set in the country, away from the urban areas, and gang warfare, and therefore, an environment that's not as likely to bring on violent intergroup conflict, death and sorrow. This is not to say that there's no conflict between people, including members of the romancing couples in South Pacific and The Sound of Music, or even My Fair Lady. It's just that the conflict is very different, and it's among different sets of people, who are no longer at an age where they're prone to rougher, more violent conflict, plus, as I pointed out, South Pacific and The Sound of Music take place in more idyllic environments that are farther removed from rough and rundown urban areas.
My Fair Lady, on the other hand, takes place in an urban area, but in a much wealthier section of a city, namely London, England. Liza Doolittle comes from an impoverished background, while Henry Higgins comes from more wealth. So, in this instance, both Henry and Liza come from the opposite sides of the track.
Unlike My Fair Lady, The Sound of Music, and South Pacific, however, West Side Story, both as a stage play and a movie, has got everything, ranging from love and romance to the stark rattle of violence and death, which is what also makes West Side Story untraditional, on both screen and stage.
The beauty of West Side Story, as I've more than likely pointed out before is the fact that it was successful, both on stage and on screen. That, too, makes West Side Story about as untraditional as a movie-musical can get. The fact that the story behind West Side Story as a movie-musical is not only told but emphasized through fantastic cinematography, richly colored costumes, and the frequent use of red and other passionate colors is also what makes West Side Story untraditional as a movie musical, as well as the intensely brilliant Leonard Bernstein score, which, unlike other musical scores, has notes that are frequently played in groups of three notes, rendering the score of West Side Story one that stands out from the musical scores to most musicals...generally.
Unlike West Side Story, most musicals tend to lose a great deal of their "kick" when transferred from stage to screen. Part of it is due to the fact that with most musicals, the people in the stage productions are much more real. Part of it is also due to the fact that when most musicals get transferred from stage to screen, they tend to become more diluted by having been photographed outdoors, or whatever.
West Side Story is also untraditional in that it is a very good (and rare) exception to all of the above when it comes to movie-musicals. The characters in the film version of West Side Story are just as believable as those in the stage production(s), if not more so. The fact that the on-location filming background scenes in the film version of West Side Story are so seamlessly combined with staged sets to create a backdrop that looks uncannily like the rough, run-down parts of a large urban area also helps make West Side Story as a movie-musical untraditional, in a wonderful way. The fact that West Side Story is still quite relevant, even today, is what makes it untraditional as a movie-musical, as well.
So, all of the above having been said, West Side Story, due to the fact that it is so untraditional in many ways, is a feast for the eyes, the ears, the heart and the minds of the audience. It's this kind of untraditional movie-musical that I'm able to relate to the most, because unlike most musicals, it has so much more happening in it. All the action, exuberance, sadness, conflict, violence, death, and the coming to view each other as human beings with more in common than they realized, afterwards, is what propels this movie-musical and makes it what it really is; A feast for the minds, hearts, ears and eyes of its audiences, of virtually all ages.