Today marks the 55th anniversary of the Broadway premiere of West Side Story, which debuted at the Winter Garden Theater in New York in 1957. A “Romeo and Juliet” for the modern era, the musical quickly became a timeless classic.

Originally conceived of as “East Side Story," the production languished for years before coming to life through the collaboration between up-and-coming Broadway giants. Several strands of genius went into the making of "West Side" -- choreographer Jerome Robbins, playwright Arthur Laurents, and composer Leonard Bernstein played an integral role in the production. This founding group was joined some six years on by Stephen Sondheim, an addition that served as a catalyst for a revived project.

The musical, set in the West 50s and 60s of the Upper West Side of Manhattan, follows a rivalry between two streetwise gangs, the Jets and the Sharks. When Tony -- a Jet -- falls for Maria -- a Shark -- all hell breaks loose. The musical paints a vivid picture of the tensions between groups at the social margins and envelops us in the energy of youth culture. Ultimately, the production moves us with its story of misbegotten love.

The original production starred Larry Kert as Tony, Carol Lawrence as Maria, Chita Rivera as Anita and David Winters as Baby John. Though not initially a box office hit, it was met with positive critical reviews. Brooks Atkinson, a New York Times theater critic at the time, wrote of the play that "everything contributes to the total impression of wildness, ecstasy and anguish...The subject is not beautiful. But what 'West Side Story' draws out is beautiful. For it has a searching point of view.” Despite such glowing reviews, "Music Man" (a marvelous, if more conventional play) bested West Side Story for the Tony as the Best Play of 1958. The latter settled for two awards-- Best Choreography and Best Scenic Design.

"West Side Story" continues to speak to the intimate corners of our hearts as well as to the social contradictions that still challenge us over a half-century since the play's inception.

When did you first see it, readers? Let us know in the comments section below.

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  • West Side Story Original Broadway Cast

    A group of young men talk around a table at a soda fountain in a scene from a theatrical production of the musical, 'West Side Story,' composed by Leonard Bernstein, New York City. (Museum of the City of New York / Getty Images)

  • West Side Story Original Broadway Cast

    In this 1957 file photo, Chita Rivera, the original cast member in the Broadway musical production of "West Side Story," is shown. (AP) <a href="http://www.chitarivera.com">Chita Rivera</a> who played Anita in "West Side Story"got her Broadway start in a 1952 Broadway production of "Call Me Madam." Following "West Side Story" she played the role of Nicky in the film adaptation of "Sweet Charity" with Shirley MacLaine. She started in a number of other Broadway productions and won her first Tony award (1984) for her role as Anna in "The Rink" with Liza Minnelli. She won her second Tony in 1993 for her role in "Kiss of the Spider Woman." In 2009 she was awarded the Presidential Metal of Freedom by President Obama.

  • Chita Rivera

    Chita Rivera at the White House in August 2009.

  • West Side Story Original Broadway Cast

    A group of young men and women jump in a scene from a stage production of 'West Side Story,' 1957. (Fred Fehl, Museum of the City of New York / Getty Images)

  • West Side Story Original Broadway Cast

    Carol Lawrence, right, as Maria, and Chita Rivera, as Anita, are shown in the Broadway musical "West Side Story" at the Winter Garden Theatre in New York City on Dec. 26, 1957. (AP) <a href="http://carollawrence.com">Carol Lawrence</a> who played Maria went on to star in "I Do! I Do!" (1967) and "Kiss of the Spider Woman" (1993-1995) on Broadway. Most recently, she played the role of Angela Eckart on "General Hospital" from 1992-1993. In 2009, she received a Lifetime Achievement award from The Licia Albanese/Puccinni Foundations.

  • West Side Story Original Broadway Cast

    Young men perform a scene from a stage production of 'West Side Story', circa 1957. (Eileen Darby, Museum of the City of New York / Getty Images)

  • West Side Story Original Broadway Cast

    Men surround and harrass a woman in a scene from a stage production of 'West Side Story', circa 1957. (Eileen Darby, Museum of the City of New York / Getty Images)

  • West Side Story Original Broadway Cast

    Choreographer Jerome Robbins, second from left, goes through rehearsals for the upcoming Broadway musical "West Side Story," July 22, 1957. Chita Rivera is seen beside Robbins at center. (AP)

  • West Side Story Original Broadway Cast

    American composer and lyricist Stephen Sondheim, who wrote the lyrics for the musical " West Side Story," is seen in this 1957 photo. (AP)

  • Stephen Sondheim

    Stephen Sondheim with Bill and Hillary Clinton.

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