Happy 50th, “West Side Story”

posted by Michael Zoldessy on October 21, 2011 at 8:00 am



Compiled by Michael Coate

Presented here to commemorate the 50th anniversary of the premiere of WEST SIDE STORY is a list of (most of) the classic, award-winning film’s North American reserved-seat “roadshow” engagements. These were the cities and theaters that exclusively played the film before it was given a general release. The majority of these roadshow engagements were presented in 70-millimeter and six-track stereophonic sound.

10.18.1961 … New York, NY — Rivoli (77 weeks)

11.01.1961 … Boston, MA — Gary (48 weeks)

11.07.1961 … Philadelphia, PA — Midtown (52 weeks)

11.14.1961 … Washington, DC — Uptown (42 weeks)

12.13.1961 … Los Angeles, CA — Chinese (58 weeks)

12.14.1961 … Miami Beach, FL — Sheridan (52 weeks)

12.14.1961 … San Francisco, CA — United Artists (46 weeks)

02.08.1962 … Pittsburgh, PA — Nixon (32 weeks)

02.13.1962 … Cleveland, OH — Ohio (19 weeks)

02.14.1962 … Baltimore, MD — Mayfair (17 weeks)

02.14.1962 … Detroit, MI — Madison (36 weeks)

02.14.1962 … San Diego, CA — Capri (36 weeks)

02.15.1962 … Dallas, TX — Esquire (20 weeks)

02.16.1962 … Minneapolis, MN — Mann (28 weeks)

02.19.1962 … Seattle, WA — Music Box (40 weeks)

02.20.1962 … Chicago, IL — Michael Todd (38 weeks)

02.22.1962 … Montreal, QC — Alouette (31 weeks)

03.01.1962 … St. Louis, MO — Mid-City (17 weeks)

03.14.1962 … Milwaukee, WI — Strand (31 weeks)

03.14.1962 … Portland, OR — Music Box (36 weeks)

03.15.1962 … Buffalo, NY — Teck (15 weeks)

03.21.1962 … Kansas City, MO — Plaza (13 weeks)

03.21.1962 … Salt Lake City, UT — South East (39 weeks)

03.21.1962 … Vancouver, BC — Stanley (29 weeks)

03.22.1962 … Cincinnati, OH — Valley (25 weeks)

03.28.1962 … Scottsdale, AZ — Kachina (15 weeks)

03.29.1962 … Atlanta, GA — Rhodes (23 weeks)

04.04.1962 … Albany, NY — Hellman (10 weeks)

04.04.1962 … New Orleans, LA — Civic (10 weeks)

04.04.1962 … Tampa, FL — Florida (11 weeks)

04.05.1962 … DeWitt, NY — Shoppingtown (16 weeks)

04.05.1962 … Rochester, NY — Riviera (26 weeks)

04.11.1962 … Des Moines, IA — Capri (? weeks)

04.11.1962 … Hartford, CT — Strand (21 weeks)

04.11.1962 … New Haven, CT — Whalley (26 weeks)

04.11.1962 … Omaha, NE — Admiral (15 weeks)

04.11.1962 … Providence, RI — Elmwood (15 weeks)

04.11.1962 … Toledo, OH — Esquire (10 weeks)

04.13.1962 … Asbury Park, NJ — St. James (? weeks)

04.13.1962 … Syosset, NY — Syosset (? weeks)

04.13.1962 … Upper Montclair, NJ — Bellevue (? weeks)

04.13.1962 … Youngstown, OH — State (10 weeks)

04.19.1962 … Oklahoma City, OK — State (13 weeks)

05.02.1962 … Denver, CO — Denham (28 weeks)

05.02.1962 … Tucson, AZ — Catalina (10 weeks)

05.17.1962 … Toronto, ON — Tivoli (31 weeks)

06.21.1962 … Columbus, OH — Cinestage (25 weeks)

06.27.1962 … Indianapolis, IN — Lyric (? weeks)

06.28.1962 … Dayton, OH — McCook (? weeks)

06.28.1962 … Nanuet, NY — Route 59 (? weeks)

??.??.1962 … Atlantic City, NJ — ?

??.??.1962 … Honolulu, HI — ?

??.??.1962 … Houston, TX — ?

??.??.1962 … Jacksonville, FL — Center

??.??.1962 … Lexington, KY — ?

??.??.1962 … Louisville, KY — ?

??.??.1962 … Memphis, TN — Crosstown

??.??.1962 … Nashville, TN — ?

??.??.1962 … Norfolk, VA — ?

??.??.1962 … Portland, ME — ?

??.??.1962 … Richmond, VA — ?

??.??.1962 … Shreveport, LA — ?

??.??.1962 … Utica, NY — ?

Sources: This article was compiled primarily by referencing archived WEST SIDE STORY coverage in film industry trade publications and regional newspaper promotion.

Special Thanks: Jerry Alexander, Jim Barg, Raymond Caple, Nick DiMaggio, Bill Huelbig, Bill Kretzel, Mark Lensenmayer, Stan Malone, Gabriel Neeb, Vince Young.

Comments (31)

Bill Huelbig
Bill Huelbig on October 19, 2011 at 7:37 am

Here’s a comment I just left on the Rivoli page:

I was six years old on 10/18/1961. The soundtrack album was played in my house several times a week for years. I was aware that it was playing at the Rivoli and I really wanted to go, but couldn’t find anyone to take me. My Aunt Connie saw it there and told me how great it was. I almost saw it in its exclusive North Jersey run at the Bellevue in Upper Montclair NJ in the summer of 1962 with my older cousin, but that fell through. I had to wait till April 1963 to see it in 35mm at the Route 3 Drive-In in Rutherford NJ, but it was worth the wait. Just two weeks ago I finally saw it in 70mm in Seattle. That too was worth waiting for, even if it took 50 years.

58 weeks at Grauman’s Chinese must be the longest run for one movie at that theater.

jimseabough on October 19, 2011 at 2:34 pm

Always wanted to see this on 70MM.Looking forward to the movie event Nov 9th and the blu ray release a week later.

raysson on October 20, 2011 at 10:31 am

In North Carolina: Only Exclusive Engagement in the Carolinas where WEST SIDE STORY played first-run was at the Dilworth Theatre in Charlotte on June 21, 1962. It was NOT a roadshow presentation. The rest were general releases in order: Asheville: Plaza (7-6-1962) Durham: Carolina (7-18-1962) Raleigh: State (7-20-1962) Fayetteville: Carolina (7-25-1962) Wilmington: Bailey (8-1962) Greensboro: Center (10-1962) Winston-Salem: Winston (10-1962) Chapel Hill: Varsity (1-3-1963) **These are just the large cities within North Carolina,and not the small town venues.

raysson on October 20, 2011 at 10:36 am

The Dilworth Theatre in Charlotte on June 21, 1962 was the only Exclusive Engagement Showing within both North and South Carolina where WEST SIDE STORY played first-run. Other cities within the Carolinas didn’t get the film until July or August of 1962(Durham, Asheville, Raleigh,Fayetteville,and Wilmington). Greensboro and Winston-Salem didn’t get WEST SIDE STORY until mid-October of 1962,while Chapel Hill didn’t get WEST SIDE STORY until early January of 1963.

raysson on October 20, 2011 at 10:40 am

The Chapel Hill run of WEST SIDE STORY was a general release that played first-run at the Varsity Theatre for two weeks running from January 3, 1963 until January 17, 1963.(Source:The Chapel Hill Public Library Archives and the Wilson Library Microfilm Section at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill)

Nick DiMaggio
Nick DiMaggio on October 20, 2011 at 11:54 am

I was 11 when I first saw WEST SIDE STORY. It was the opening attraction at the remodeled Florida Theatre in Tampa. Although advertised as “Exclusive Florida West Coast Engagement” there were no reserved seats so it wasn’t the true roadshow attraction. It played for 11 weeks at the Florida. I remember being excited in seeing how the newly renovated theatre looked as well as finally seeing WEST SIDE STORY which I knew very little about (other than it had won 10 Academy Awards.)

Little did I realize that first viewing was the beginning of a 50-year love affair. I’ve since seen it countless times from first-run to second-run theaters, drive-ins, network broadcasts, and video. Whenever it played locally in theatres I was there. My biggest disappointment and regret is unfortunately I’ve never seen it in 70MM.

ChasSmith on October 21, 2011 at 8:19 am

I was 12 when we were living in Fort Lauderdale while it was playing in Miami Beach, our nearest destination for roadshow engagements. Though my family had always liked musicals, this one flew under their radar, and it would be at least another year anyway before we started going down there to attend roadshows.

In the meantime, I was a musical kid and had gotten the soundtrack album and played it to death, completely thrilled by this discovery of Leonard Bernstein. I really drove everyone nuts with it. When it opened in general release at Fort Lauderdale’s Warnor Theatre (in March 1963, according to Miami News ads), I was there, alone, on the first night, and was blown away. I could talk of nothing else. Driving everyone even crazier, I then acquired the complete score and played it at the piano every day.

The family returned to the film with me a few times as it made its eventual rounds among other theaters in the area, and they did love it, if not quite with the passion I had for it. With all of its faults, this film version has so many great things going for it it’s not even funny. Happy 50th, and many more!

Ken Roe
Ken Roe on October 21, 2011 at 1:53 pm

“West Side Story” has always been one my most favourite films, since I first saw it at a cinema in Llandudno, North Wales, UK while I was on holiday in 1962.

Michael;Thanks for the terrific article, again so well researched. I have just purchased the Blu-Ray disc and it looks stunning! It was released here in the UK before the USA Blu-Ray release, which makes a change!

Lkoger on October 21, 2011 at 6:14 pm

Terrific job regarding the research on the Roadshow engagements for West Side Story. I was fortunate to have seen WSS in 70mm during it’s initial reserved seat presentation at the Valley Theater in Cincinnati. In fact, I saw it two more times before it concluded it’s exclusive run at the Valley. I’ve lost track of how many times I’ve seen it since, both in theaters and at home. I’ve owned it on VHS, LaserDisc, and DVD. Anxiously awaiting it’s release on BlueRay. My only regret is I’ll miss the 70mm limited release before it hits BlueRay. For me, it’s one of those rare films you can watch again and again and never tire of it. Thanks to Robert Wise and Jerome Robbins for producing such an outstanding motion picture!

StanMalone on October 22, 2011 at 5:44 am

I first saw this great movie in December 1970 at the old Martin Cinerama which by then was operated by Walter Reade under the name “The Atlanta.” I was only an occasional moviegoer for most of the 60’s and had not even heard of this movie until the previous May when, for some unknown reason, the song “Somewhere” was chosen by some unknown person to be the class song that we sang during our high school graduation. When it appeared at the Atlanta as a two week pre Christmas filler, I stopped by to see it on my way home from class at Georgia State.

In those days, the Cinerama ribbon screen was still in use, and although 35MM, especially scope, always looked a little fuzzy with that deep curve, the size of the picture and the four track mag sound gave it an impressive presentation. However, it was the choreography, which I had never seen anything like, that impressed me the most. And Natalie Wood on the 68 X 34 foot screen of course. I enjoyed it so much I stayed for another show since it was continuous performances. I was puzzled by a movie that had no credits, but I did enjoy what I assumed was walkout music as well as the overture. (15 months later I was working at this theatre and asked the projectionist why they did not show the credits. Answer: To save carbons of course.)

Two months later WSS showed up at the Candler Road Mini Cinema, a little hole in the wall neighborhood theatre. The screen was tiny, the sound mono, and the quality of the projection poor, but I did experience something that few patrons of this movie can claim; an intermission. I do not know why this movie is never presented with an intermission since the place for it, right after the war council, is so obvious. Maybe it was there during the roadshow. Anyway, the Candler had one, though not in the correct spot. Instead, they waited one more reel, until the end of a 6000' reel thus avoiding all of that heavy work associated with an extra changeover. That reel ended right in the middle of the rumble. So, with Riff pinned against the fence, an astrodater, with sound no less, appeared and I (the only one in the house) had to wait 10 minutes for the fight to resume. In one respect, the Candler showed itself to be able to equal and even exceed the magnificent Atlanta Theatre. Not only did they kill the light at the end fadeout, they cut off the projector as well depriving me of the pleasure of the music.

In June 1971, again as a filler, WSS returned to the site of its Atlanta premiere, the Rhodes Theatre. Here I finally got to see the entire movie the way it was meant to be seen. Not only did I get to see that great credit sequence, but I found out that the overture was actually supposed to have something on the screen while it was playing. The film was only 35, but it was mag, and seeing it this way was almost like seeing it in a real theatre for the first time. When business was so good it was held over for a second week, I helped myself to another showing, this time talking the family into seeing it with me.

In the fall of 1972 WSS made its network premiere It was considered such an event that, in Atlanta at least, an ad, complete with artwork, was placed in the movie section of the paper with the TV station logo where the theatre would normally be.

When the Fox Theatre started showing a summer movie series after being saved from the wrecking ball, WSS was an occasional attraction and I was always there to see it. When it returned in 1996 I was working in the Fox booth, my only experience with this movie as projectionist. As it turned out, my love for this film, and my numerous viewings of it paid off in a big way. While not new, the print was a recent one with a Dolby soundtrack, and in pretty good shape. However, some previous “projectionist” had not only shown a lack of technique by cutting the heads and tails without leaving a frame attached, they had also shown their lack of interest by swapping the leaders and tail on two of the reels. As anyone who has worked in a booth will confirm, unless it happens with the first or last reel there is no way to catch this mistake if you do not know the movie. Since I did know it, I was able to catch it and avoid having hundreds of people cursing me.

This was not a ground breaking movie for me when it comes to being exposed to a whole new medium. As far as musicals go, that honor belongs to Sound of Music. However, coming when it did, just as I was leaving home and going to college, it caused me to take much more interest in movies. Within a year I was tearing tickets at a theatre beginning the first of my 40 or so years in this business.

ChasSmith on October 22, 2011 at 7:30 am

Wow, thanks for the write-up.

Maybe not a groundbreaking movie for you, but a groundbreaking post in How Many Ways Are There to F* Up a Presentation of a Movie. Holy crap. Glad to hear how you were able to save your audiences from that last travesty. Wow. (Oh, I already said that.)

jimseabough on October 22, 2011 at 7:50 am

Was the intermission included in the roadshow engagements? No intermissions in any of the general release showings that I saw. Looking forward to seeing this November 9th at that one night special showing. And the blu ray comes out the following week.

kjb2012 on October 22, 2011 at 8:20 am

I believe that Wise did not an intermission. But UA felt otherwise. I think I’m correct.
Also great Michael.

kjb2012 on October 22, 2011 at 8:21 am

That should be great job Michael. Didn’t get enough sleep last night. lol

Jon Lidolt
Jon Lidolt on October 22, 2011 at 9:29 am

Most of the 70mm reserved seat engagements did not have an intermission. But United Artists, who distributed the movie, did allow it if a cinema insisted for whatever reason.

Nick DiMaggio
Nick DiMaggio on October 22, 2011 at 10:22 am

Thanks for the great write-up Stan! Very interesting to hear about presentations in various theatres even though most of them made me cringe. Evidently it was left up to the theatres to place an intermission (if they so desired) wherever they chose. The first showing I saw at the Florida Theatre in Tampa in 1962 was 35mm with a mono soundtrack. The Florida had an intermission at a very unusual spot in the film. It was right after the outdoor stairway scene on the balcony just after Tony & Maria sing “Tonight.” An Intermission card was flashed on the screen and the curtain was lowered. Up until then I had never seen a movie with an intermission within the film itself so I was stunned.

When it later played at the Ritz Theatre there was no intermission at all. I can’t recall now if there was an intermission at the countless other theatrical showings I saw. And I don’t remember an intermission at any of the drive-in showings.

The Tampa Theatre has since played the film several times since reopening in 1977. One of those early showings in the late 1970s was in 16mm. But the absolute worst print I saw was in 2001 at the Tampa although it wasn’t the fault of the projectionist but rather the print itself. It was a junk print, bady worn and battered with lines, splices, and most of the print had a soft-focus look, color was slightly fading, and the soundtrack was scratchy with an annoying background hiss. Worst of all the entire musical prologue at the beginning was missing. The film opened with a one-second flash of the tile, then jumped-cut to the overhead shot of New York. For those who had never seen the film before (lots of well-behaved teens and young people in attendance) that was not a good way to be introduced to the film.

The last time the Tampa ran “West Side Story” was in 2004. As part of the celebration of the new digital marquee they presented a free showing of the film to the sold-out theatre. It was a restored print with Dolby Digital sound. The print was a beauty with a sharp image. A flawless presention nearly all the way through. But alas something had to mar the showing during the changeover to the last reel. Tony has been shot and Maria approaches Chino and he places the gun in her hand. At that point the changeover was made and the picture begins fluttering on-screen for a few seconds and the picture goes off the screen and the soundtrack slowly grounds to a halt. Apparently the film was not threaded properly and lost it’s loop or the pressure plate in the appature wasn’t fully closed.

For this to occur anywhere else in the film would have been bad enough but at that exact scene…the climax! Well you can imagine the audience reaction! After about a minute the picture hits the screen again but with the frame line showing in the center but this was quickly corrected. The projectionist must have been sweating bullets!

Ken Roe
Ken Roe on October 22, 2011 at 10:28 am

On the new Blu-Ray release, there is an intermission, complete with Intermission intro music (played on a blank screen). The Intermission comes just after ‘The War Council’ scene, and part 2 opens with ‘I Feel Pretty’.

According to the booklet which came with the DVD Special Edition Collectors Set (sadly not included with the new Blu-Ray release) it states the the George V cinema in Paris, France ran the movie for 218 weeks, and it then ran another 25 weeks at the Avenue cinema, followed by a further 16 weeks at the Arleqine cinema!

Also Internationally, the booklet states during January-March 1962, “West Side Story” became the top grosser ever at the Piccadilly Theatre, Tokyo, Japan. At the Astoria Theatre, London, England, it had the highest ever advance sales of any film at that theatre. In Stockholm, Sweden at the Ritz Theatre, seats were sold out months in advance.

After the June 1962 premiere of the film in Sydney, Australia (name of theatre not stated) all seats were booked out in advance as far as October 1962.

Ken Roe
Ken Roe on October 22, 2011 at 11:09 am

Oops, Correction to the above, Stockholm is in Denmark

Bill Huelbig
Bill Huelbig on October 22, 2011 at 6:03 pm

It had an intermission when I saw it at the Route 3 Drive-In, Rutherford NJ in April 1963. I believe it was right between the songs “One Hand, One Heart” and “Quintet” (not really the best place for a break). The new 70mm print shown in Seattle this month had an intermission right where Ken said it was on the Blu-Ray, and the intermission card even had the Saul Bass graphic design of an abstract Manhattan as seen during the overture. It looked great.

Lkoger on October 24, 2011 at 10:28 am

Regarding the comments pertaining to the “Intermission” in WSS – the 70mm roadshow presentation I saw at the Valley Theater in Cincinnati (3 times) included an intermission following the War Council meeting in Doc’s store after Tony tell’s Doc he’s in love with Maria. Act 1 ends with Tony walking through the playground with “Maria” playing softly in the background, then goes to black and “Intermission” appeared on the screen. Act 2 opened with the “I Feel Pretty” number.

In the ‘90’s. the Uptown Theater in Washington ran a “70mm Festival” including WSS with all titles shown in their original Roadshow format. The uptown included an intermission in WSS at the same point as that at the Valley in Cincinnati. Oddly, none of the video versions I’ve owned include a break at that point, other than just going dark after Tony walks off, and the picking up with Maria in the dress shop and the I Feel Pretty" number.

Bill Huelbig
Bill Huelbig on October 24, 2011 at 12:11 pm

West Side Story played at the Bellevue in Upper Montclair NJ for 35 weeks, 5 days (4/13/62 through 12/19/62).

It played the Route 59 Theater in Nanuet NY for 18 weeks, 4 days (6/28/62 through 11/5/62).

telliott on October 24, 2011 at 2:03 pm

Stockholm IS in Sweden Ken, NOT Denmark!

Ken Roe
Ken Roe on October 25, 2011 at 2:54 am

Ooops!!again. Sorry guys. Too many late nights. So that is why I couldn’t find the Ritz Theatre (Stockholm), in a book I have on the cinemas of Copenhagen! LOL

bufffilmbuff on October 25, 2011 at 1:56 pm

Great piece. In Richmond, Virginia, WSS played at the Willow Lawn theatre as a 70mm roadshow. Sadly this theatre was gutted, multiplexed and closed. In its time it was a beauty. Sorry to report that the early word on the WEST SIDE STORY blu ray indicates a screwup with the Saul Bass designed overture sequence. See Home Theatre forum for details. It does include the intermission which cannot be be turned off (unlike the last dvd release). If you look at the liner notes to the soundtrack lp, there is a mention that the filmmakers did not want an intermission for this film.

MPol on November 1, 2011 at 8:18 am

Yeahhhhh! I’m sooooooo happy that West Side Story is having a 50th-year Anniversary re-release. I’ll be attending the big WSS event here in Boston, at Regal Fenway, on November 9th, and another screening of West Side Story at the Coolidge Corner Theatre, which’ll be the final part of their Big Screen Classic Series for this year, on November 14th! Woo-hoo…I’m happy, happy, happy…and excited!!


MPol on November 1, 2011 at 8:30 am

I also might add that you all may be interested to know that I’ve purchased tickets for both special West Side Story events….well in advance and printed them out at home, so I now have them both ready at hand!

MPol on November 2, 2011 at 8:15 pm

The fact that West Side Story is also due to be release on Blu-Ray DVD is worrisome to me for the following reasons:

A) West Side Story is a magificent classic film that won ten well-earned awards and deserves to be shown on a great big, wide movie screen, in a real movie theatre with the lights down low…the way it’s meant to be seen.

B) The release of so many movies on Blu-Ray sounds like a forced take-over, because not everybody is willing or able to change over to Blu-Ray, and they’ll be deprived of seeing desireable films such as WSS as a result.

C) Blu-Ray DVD’s don’t work if one doesn’t have a special Blu-Ray DVD player, and a decent one can be prohibitively expensive.

D) Will West Side Story’s release on Blu-Ray mean the end of this magificent classic movie ever playing again in real movie theatres? I certainly hope not, because there are plenty of people (myself included, who don’t wish to be deprived of the right to see a great classic film like West Side Story as it’s really MEANT to be viewed; on a great big, wide movie theatre screen, in a real movie theatre, with the lights down low.

MPol on December 1, 2011 at 6:39 am

Hey, fellow cinematreasurers and West Side Story fans (if you’re out there!):

I attended the 50th-year Anniversary TCM West Side Story movie Event here in Boston with a friend, and we loved every minute of it!

I also went solo to the screening of the film West Side Story at the Coolidge Corner Theatre in Brookline, which they showed as the final part of their annual Big Screen Classic series, and loved every minute of that, too.

When I first saw the film West Side Story 43 years ago, as a high school Senior, little did I know that this was the beginning of a 40-some-odd year love affair with a great classic movie. Since then, I’ve seen the film West Side Story more times than I’m able or willing to count, in theatres, on TV, and even on DVD and video, and I’m still keeping my ears and eyes out for the next screening of WSS!

Cimarron on March 23, 2014 at 3:10 pm

Just found this blog and am very late to the party…WSS was and still is one of my all time favorites. I saw the first showing in Oklahoma City in 1962 at the State Theater. I recall that a intermission was included. I still have the original sound track LP album from that time frame and continue to watch reruns from time to time. Great blog. Thanks

MPol on April 3, 2014 at 8:42 am

Hi, Cimarron. Welcome to the party! The fact that you’re late doesn’t matter, so don’t worry about it. My love for West Side Story, which began with my introduction to the music back in the summer of 1962, while attending day camp out in Tucson, AZ, prior to entering the sixth grade, when a girl in the group I was with brought in a copy of the LP album soundtrack of the Broadway stage version of West Side Story, and played it for the group. It was then that my love of West Side Story instantly took off, and has continued, unabated, to this day.

I first saw the movie version of West Side Story around Christmastime of 1968, as a high school Senior, and fell in love with this great classic from the start, and I love it still. The first time I saw the film West Side Story in the theatre, it did include an intermission. I’ve admittedly seen West Side Story more times than I can count, some with the intermissions, some without. More recent showings have included the Intermission, however, and I’ve seen some digitally-restored, HD versions of this film too, including showings with live renditions of the musical score from the film by the Boston Symphony Orchestra, which added a whole new dimension to an already-fantastic classic film.

p. s. Pardon my rambling.

MSC77 on February 25, 2022 at 3:34 pm

Passing along the link to my new-and-improved 3-page 60th anniversary retrospective on WEST SIDE STORY, which includes a historian interview and reference listing of its roadshow engagements. Numerous cinemas, of course, get mentioned.

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