The 1961 West Side Story film has Star Trek connections.
On December 10, director Steven Spielberg’s long-anticipated version of West Side Story finally rumbles and mambos its way into movie theaters. The Library of Congress hails the original 1957 Broadway production as a show that “fundamentally changed the form of musicals.” And when, in 1961, this classic show first jumped to the silver screen, Robert Wise—known best to Star Trek fans as the director of Star Trek: The Motion Picture (1979)—co-directed, along with choreographer and the man who had the original idea, Jerome Robbins. (Arthur Laurents wrote the musical’s book, Leonard Bernstein composed the music, and the late Stephen Sondheim wrote the lyrics.)
Robert Wise and Jerome Robbins’ film won 10 of the Academy Awards for which it was nominated, including Best Picture. Widely though not unreservedly regarded as a Hollywood classic, the 1961 West Side Story benefits from the behind-the-scenes contributions of creative professionals besides Wise whose names some Star Trek fans may also recognize.
Concept artist and illustrator Harold Michelson, for instance, would work with Robert Wise again as Production Designer on Star Trek: The Motion Picture. Similarly, as the Memory Alpha wiki points out, uncredited West Side Story production illustrator Leon R. Harris worked as Art Director on ST:TMP.
But the 1961 West Side Story’s connections to Star Trek don’t all run through Robert Wise. At least two faces in the film—one quite prominent, the other less so but still memorable—will look familiar to many Star Trek fans.
“Tony” from West Side Story starred in three Deep Space Nine episodes
Richard Beymer co-starred in the 1961 movie as Tony to Natalie Wood’s Maria. Their star-crossed characters believed their love could bridge the gap between the rival street gangs fighting for turf in New York’s now long gone San Juan Hill (Lincoln Square) neighborhood. Sadly, their romance ends no better than that of Romeo and Juliet, whose “tale of woe” West Side Story adapted and updated. Beymer’s performance earned him two Golden Globe nominations.
Thirty-two years later, Beymer played Bajoran resistance “hero” Li Nalas in the first three episodes of Star Trek: Deep Space Nine’s second season: “The Homecoming,” “The Circle,” and “The Siege.” By accident, Li became an unwilling symbol of hope for his people.
Li doesn’t becomes an actual hero until the trilogy of episodes’ end. Like his West Side Story character, Beymer’s Star Trek character is shot and killed—by a phaser, in this case, taking a blast intended for Commander Sisko.
William Bramley played a smaller role in West Side Story. He was Sergeant Krupke, the policeman who frequently threatens the members of the Jets with arrest—although his threats don’t trouble them too much, as their comical song “Gee, Officer Krupke” demonstrates.
Appropriately, then, Bramley also played a law enforcement officer in Star Trek. He’s the lead policeman in “Bread and Circuses,” the one who sneers as he calls Captain Kirk “arena bait.”
There’s at least one more link between our favorite sci-fi franchise and West Side Story to share. It comes from Deep Space Nine producer Ira Steven Behr. Behr reveals how Vedek Bareil came by his first name, Antos (in the sixth season episode “Resurrection”):
"It actually came from ‘Anton,’ which was Tony’s real name in West Side Story. I just thought the romance here [between Mirror Universe Bareil and Major Kira] was that kind of West Side Story thing. Of course, we couldn’t use Anton, so [producer] Hans [Beimler] suggested “Antos” (Terry J. Erdman, Star Trek: Deep Space Nine Companion, pp. 510-511)."
The connections between Star Trek and very different properties, such as West Side Story, fascinate me. I hope they intrigue you, too, and will add to your enjoyment of both!