The action takes place on the West Side of New York City in the late 1950s, during the last days of summer.
In the primarily danced prologue, the members of the rival teen gangs (the Jets, led by Riff, and the Puerto Rican Sharks, led by Bernardo) taunt each other as they move about the neighborhood streets. A fight breaks out between them, but it's cut short by the arrival of the cops. Riff tells his buddies he's determined to drive the Sharks off the neighborhood's streets and that he's sure he can get his best friend Tony, the now-inactive co-founder of the Jets, to help him. Riff says he'll challenge Bernardo that night at a dance in the gym. He reassures the Jets of their invincibility (THE JET SONG).
Tony senses that something besides gang loyalty is about to enter his life (SOMETHING'S COMING), but he isn't sure what. At the dance (DANCE AT THE GYM), Tony meets Maria, Bernardo's younger sister, newly arrived from Puerto Rico. For both Tony and Maria, it's love at first sight. But Bernardo stops them from dancing together and insists that several of the Sharks take Maria home. Tony walks through the streets, thinking only of his newfound love (MARIA). He finds the tenement building where Maria lives and calls up to her. When she appears on the fire escape outside her window, he climbs up to her and together, they pledge their love (BALCONY SCENE: TONIGHT). As Tony leaves, Bernardo, his girlfriend Anita, and their friends enter. The Sharks leave for the war council much to Anita's dismay. She and the girls sing about the relative merits and demerits of life among Puerto Ricans in New York (AMERICA!).
At Doc's candy and soda shop, the Jets anxiously wait the Sharks for a ?war council? to agree on a place for a rumble the next day. Riff advises them to and act calmly as they can (COOL). The Sharks arrive and the place is set under the highway tomorrow night.
The next day, in the dress shop where Maria works, Tony comes to visit her. She makes him promise to stop the rumble. Before he leaves, they pretend that the shop's bridal clothes are for them and imagine their wedding (ONE HAND, ONE HEART). That night, the rival gangs prepare for the rumble, as Anita makes plans to meet Bernardo later, and Tony and Maria individually sing of their love (TONIGHT: QUINTET).
In a deserted place under the highway, the rumble is about to begin. Tony tries to get Riff and Bernardo to call it off, but Bernardo only insults Tony for being chicken and pushes him away. Riff steps in and strikes Bernardo. In the fight that follows (THE RUMBLE), switch-blades suddenly appear and Riff is killed by Bernardo. A stunned Tony seizes Riff's knife and kills Bernardo. As police sirens come nearer, the gangs hightail it into the night.
In Maria's parlor, she tells the Shark girls how wonderful it is to be in love (I FEEL PRETTY). She has no sooner learned of his brother's death from Chino, a member of the Sharks, when Tony climbs up her fire escape and begs her forgiveness for what's happened. She tells him she cannot hate him despite her grief. They vow to find someway to stay together (SOMEWHERE) as a ballet sequence retells the rumble that had just happened (PROCESSION AND NIGHTMARE).
The Jets, meanwhile, reassemble in the streets. They are warned by Krupke, a cop, not to cause any trouble on his beat. When he leaves, the Jets sarcastically lampoon him (GEE, OFFICER KRUPKE). Anybodys, a girl trying to fit in as a Jet, tells them that Chino has a gun and is looking for Tony.
A grieving Anita arrives at Maria's apartment and her insistence on Maria's letting her in forces Tony to leave. He says he will wait for her at Doc's store. Anita chides Maria mercilessly for loving Tony (A BOY LIKE THAT). Maria replies that she can only hate the conditions they all must live under, not Tony (I HAVE A LOVE). When Schrank, a police lieutenant, arrives to question Maria bout her brother, Maria convinces Anita to go to Doc's to tell Tony she is detained but will soon find a way to join him.
At the store, the Jets rudely taunt Anita before she can deliver her message, and they begin to rough her up (TAUNTING SCENE). In anger, she spits out a different message: that Chino found out about Maria and Tony and shot her. Tell Tony, she says, that Maria is dead. When Tony hears this, he runs out into the streets shouting, begging Chino to kill him too.
At the playground, Tony sees a figure in the darkness. It is Maria. He rushes toward her, but another figure suddenly steps out of the shadows. It is chino, who points his gun at Tony, and fires. Tony falls into Maria's arms. As they reaffirm their love (SOMEWHERE: REPRISE), Tony dies. Maria seizes Chino's gun as gang members and the police arrive. She curses both gangs for their hate. As the tragedy sinks in, both gangs slowly come together to lift up Tony's body and carry him off, with Maria following (FINALE).
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