Skip to main content

A Place for Us

“West Side Story” and New York

From its Broadway debut to the Oscar-winning film to countless amateur productions, West Side Story is nothing less than an American touchstone—an updating of Shakespeare vividly realized in a rapidly changing postwar New York.

That vision of postwar New York is at the heart of Julia L. Foulkes’s A Place for Us. A lifelong fan of the show, Foulkes became interested in its history when she made an unexpected discovery: scenes for the iconic film version were shot on the demolition site destined to become part of the Lincoln Center redevelopment area—a crowning jewel of postwar urban renewal. Foulkes interweaves the story of the creation of the musical and film with the remaking of the Upper West Side and the larger tale of New York’s postwar aspirations. Making unprecedented use of director and choreographer Jerome Robbins’s revelatory papers, she shows the crucial role played by the political commitments of Robbins and his fellow gay, Jewish collaborators, Leonard Bernstein and Arthur Laurents. Their determination to evoke life in New York as it was actually lived helped give West Side Story its unshakable sense of place even as it put forward a vision of a new, vigorous, determinedly multicultural American city.

Beautifully written and full of surprises for even the most dedicated West Side Story fan, A Place for Us is a revelatory new exploration of an American classic.

272 pages | 53 halftones | 6 x 9 | © 2016

Film Studies

History: American History

Literature and Literary Criticism: Dramatic Works

Music: General Music


"Foulkes's approach is chronological, but this is no pedantic march through time. Rather it is a fascinating read focusing equally on the show and the world into which it was born. . . . Essential."


"A Place for Us tells a new story about one of US theater's most important plays. A skillful historian, Julia Foulkes delves deeply into the archive to recover the details and dynamics of West Side Story from its conception and production to its film adaptation and global circulation. In doing so, she connects that story to the contemporaneous events and cultural anxieties that made the musical both timely and timeless."

Shane Vogel, author of The Scene of Harlem Cabaret

"An excellent account of West Side Story and its central role as a play and movie in American musical history and in American culture more generally. What makes the book unique is its focus on New York and the urban experience as central to the story's appeal at a time when the city was undergoing massive urban renewal, particularly on the West Side, throwing the urban poor into ethnic and racial conflict over rapidly decreasing turf. A lively, well-written book that will appeal to fans of theater and American history alike."

Lewis A. Erenberg, author of Swingin' the Dream

Table of Contents

Prologue: “There’s a place for us”

1          “Have you heard the voice of my city,” 1949–55
2          “Make alive the Daily life,” 1955–57
3          “Comes from life itself,” 1957
4          “Get cool, boy,” 1958–59
5          “Camera and choreography,” 1960–61
6          “New York Rhapsody,” 1962–70
7          “Somewhere”

Be the first to know

Get the latest updates on new releases, special offers, and media highlights when you subscribe to our email lists!

Sign up here for updates about the Press