Maria (West Side Story)
Maria is in her late teens when she arrives in America. Her older brother Bernardo is the leader of the Puerto Rican gang, the Sharks. He has a girlfriend, Anita, who Maria is friends with and looks up to. Maria is eager to start a new life in America, but Bernardo is protective and keeps a close eye on her. He intends for Maria to marry his friend Chino, but Maria is uninterested. She meets Tony, an American, who used to be part of the Sharks’ enemy gang, the Jets, at a community dance at the gym. They immediately fall in love. The couple meet several times after (on her balcony, at Anita’s shop, and at Doc’s, Tony’s workplace) before deciding to run away together after the rumble. They are about to leave when Chino shoots Tony for killing Bernardo.
Best known portrayal
The best known portrayal of Maria was by Natalie Wood in the 1961 film. The film has received criticism for the fact that Wood was not of the same Ethnic group or age as Maria, who was scripted to be Puerto Rican and in her teens. Wood was Ukrainian and Russian and was 23 when the film came out. Wood, as well as the other non-Puerto Ricans playing Sharks, had to wear darker make-up to look the part.
The songs sung by Maria include:
- "Tonight" sung with Tony. Tony visits Maria on her balcony after the dance they had met at. The song acknowledges their new relationship:
"Tonight, tonight / It all began tonight!"
- "I Feel Pretty" is sung with Maria’s co-workers (except Anita) in the dress shop. The song is about Maria feeling pretty, as well as “dizzy” “witty” “charming” because:
"I'm loved / By a pretty wonderful boy."
- After the girls leave the shop, Tony meets Maria there, and they sing "One Hand, One Heart." This is sung after they pretend to get married.
"Now it begins, Now we start / One Hand, One Heart. / Even death won't part us now."
- The Quintet is a medley that the Sharks, the Jets, Anita, Tony, and Maria sing in. Tony and Maria sing a continuation of "Tonight."
- "Somewhere" is also sung with Tony. He returns to Maria's house after he killed Bernardo at the rumble. The song represents their decision to flee from the city to:
"Peace and quiet and open air"
- "A Boy Like That / I Have a Love" is sung with Anita after she discovers that Maria was with Tony after the rumble. She tries to convince Maria to find another love, but Maria fights back with:
"I have a love and it's all that I have / Right or wrong, what else can I do?"
1961 actress choices
Natalie Wood was not the first choice to play Maria in the 1961 film version. Audrey Hepburn was considered, but she did not take it due to her pregnancy. Like Wood, Hepburn was not Puerto Rican; she was British, Dutch, and Austrian.
In popular culture
- Maria is referenced in the chorus of the song "Maria Maria" by the band Santana:
“Oh Maria, Maria / She remind me of a West Side story.”
- West Bank Story, an Academy-award winning short film, is based on West Side Story. The rivalry is between Palestinians and the Hummus Hut stand versus the Jews and the Kosher King stand. Fatima, a Hummus Hut employee, is infatuated with David, a Kosher King employee, who feels the same way about Fatima. Fatima and David represent Maria and Tony.
- A dance battle movie called Boogie Town is also based on West Side Story. It is set in 2015 New York where dance battles are illegal. There are two rival dance crews, one led by Jay and the other by Micah. Micah falls in love with Jay’s sister, Natalie, who represents Maria.