West Side Story and New York City
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Level: Undergraduate
Division: The New School for Public Engagement
School: Bachelor's Program for Adults and Transfer Students
Department: Humanities
Course Number: NHUM 3114
Course Format: Seminar
Location: NYC campus
Permission Required: No
  • Urban Studies
  • Theater History, Theory & Criticism
  • History
The musical West Side Story, which opened in 1957, presented on the Broadway stage a view of the city---tragic and contemporary---never seen before on the Great White Way. The show, loosely adapted from Shakespeare's Romeo and Juliet, places forbidden love in the midst of youth gang warfare in the streets of New York City. In this course, we explore the historical context of this great play, including Cold War politics, urban "renewal," and new waves of immigration in mid-20th-century New York. Then we bring the story even more up to date. We study the conflicts between African-Americans and Hasidic Jews that resulted in violence in Crown Heights, Brooklyn in the 1990s. Students research the neighborhood and consult community organizations as we rewrite West Side Story to convey a contemporary story of the city. In the process, we learn how New York has changed and is changing and why a story about love across boundaries continues to resonate as a poignant portrayal of urban life. This course counts towards the Jewish Culture Minor.
Course Open to: Degree Students