Title

Social Reality Versus Theatrical Portrayal: Puerto Rican Gangs in West Side Story

Date of Award

5-1-2006

Document Type

Thesis

Degree Name

Master of Arts (MA)

Department

Theatre Arts

Abstract

“Social Reality Versus Theatrical Portrayal: Puerto Rican Gangs in West Side Story” asks the question of whether or not the acclaimed Broadway musical West Side Story is more than just a museum piece. I hypothesize that its success can be linked to its continuing social relevance concerning Puerto Rican gangs in New York City. To evaluate the musical’s social relevance, the socioeconomic condition of Puerto Ricans in New York City is examined during three specific time periods and compared to the condition of the Puerto Rican gang, the Sharks, as portrayed in the musical. The three periods are the 1950s, 1970s, and since the millennium. Five criteria for comparison are analyzed during each period and then contrasted to the conditions portrayed in the musical. Each period is then compared with the next; concluding that the social relevance of the musical has indeed changed over time In the first period, I find the play to be relevant to the Puerto Rican condition present in New York City during the 1950s as well as popular with theatre audiences. During the second period, the musical loses some social relevance, however, maintains a high nostalgic value with audiences. In the third period, West Side Story is again relevant to the Puerto Rican condition and popular with audiences.

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