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West Side Story’s Production Design


West Side Story is indubitably one of the best modern renditions of Shakespeare’s The Tragedy of Romeo and Juliet. As evidenced by the numerous awards, it picked up the enormous fan base it cultivated after its release. Set at the western end of Manhattan, West Side Story tells the story of two youths, Tony Wyzek and Maria Nunez, who desperately fall in love with each other despite their antagonistic ethnic backgrounds. On one hand, Tony is an ex-member of the street gang, the Jets, who are Americans of Polish descent, while Maria is the younger sister of the leader of the Sharks that is a rival gang, comprised of Puerto Ricans. Despite Tony and Maria’s boundless love for each other, the love story ends tragically with Tony’s death. (Bernstein, and Laurents, 1958)

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Production Design

Boris Leven was the Production Designer of West Side Story and went ahead to win an Oscar for Best Production Design, Set Decoration, and Color. The production design is the art of combining various visual aspects of a motion picture to bring out the intended meaning. Some of the visual aspects of product design include location, props, set dressing, stage set design, background, lighting, and color. Production designers work closely with other departments, such as cinematography, visual effects, and the director in order to harmonize the overall look of a motion picture. (Harding, 2014)

Production design factors that led to the Winning of Oscar


On the fast track to winning an Oscar for Production Design in 1961, West Side Story’s use of outdoor locations played a big role in securing the award. At the time, the use of outdoor locations for shooting musicals was a relatively new and unique concept. West Side Story is an aboriginal major musical to make use of outdoor locations for entire songs. As the case and point, the shooting of the prologue happened in an outdoor location where an entire song ends as the Jets and Sharks stare at each other. Boris Leven’s choice of making use of outdoor locations speaks for his own personal creativity and insight contributed to winning him an Oscar.

Modern Setting

In the West Side Story, it appears that novelty was the production team’s modus operandi. At a time when most musicals were set in either a fantasy or theatre kind of backdrop, West Side Story took a pioneering step in adopting a modern framework. The whole approach of using a modern context and the excellent execution by the Production Design team played a big role in bringing the Oscar award their way.

Lights, Color, and Close-ups

In the typical outlooks of a ’60s musical, West Side Story did exemplary well. For the parts that shot on a stage setting, it is evident that the Production Design table went the entire nine yards to deliver a well-crafted sound stage. Additionally, the print consisted of a plush array of colors that created an aesthetic ambiance, which translated to a sublime experience for the audience. Boris and his team worked closely with the director and the cinematography department to use close-ups to portray the emotional flare that existed between Tony and Maria. With the use of this concept, the audience worldwide shared the emotional turmoil that befell the two lovers. (Nicholls, 2014)


Despite the fact the motion picture has won ten Oscars among other awards, little is said about West Side Story. Bordering on the social challenges of the time, while simultaneously presenting a romantic tragedy, is a feat on its own for the musical. With the indispensable input from the Production Design team, it is no wonder that the music rose to such acclaim.

Works Cited

Bernstein, Leonard, and A. Laurents. West Side story: a musical. New York: Random House, 1958. Print.

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Harding, Jill. (2014) “Review: West Side Story.” Salisbury Journal.

Nicholls, Liz. “Theatre preview: West Side Story actor feels bond with revival.” Edmonton Journal. Web.

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