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Cool (West Side Story song)

"Cool" is a song from the musical West Side Story. Leonard Bernstein composed the music and Stephen Sondheim wrote the lyrics. This song is known for its fugal treatment of a jazz figure, described by one writer as "possibly the most complex instrumental music heard on Broadway to date".[1]



Broadway PlayEdit

In the original Broadway version of West Side Story, "Cool" is sung by Riff, the leader of the Jets, before they meet with the rival gang the Sharks for a "war council" (a meeting between the two gangs to determine logistics of their planned rumble); The Jets are anxious to fight the Sharks, but Riff tells them not to lose their heads and wait until the actual rumble; in other words, "play it cool".

1961 FilmEdit

In the film, the song is performed after the rumble, during which Riff (Russ Tamblyn) is killed by Bernardo (George Chakiris), the leader of the Sharks, who in turn is killed by Tony (Richard Beymer), a former Jet and Riff's best friend.

The Jets, especially Riff's girlfriend Graziella, are all shaken by his death and are eager to exact vengeance on the Sharks; Action (Tony Mordente), who has the shortest temper of all of them, picks a fight with A-Rab (David Winters) who is trying to protect an upset Baby John (Eliot Feld). As the two fight, a man throws an object at them from his upper floor window and yells at them to go home, at which point Action directs his anger at the man and threatens him. In exasperation, the Jets' new leader, Ice (Tucker Smith; a character created especially for the film), herds them all into a nearby garage to cool off. Action is still fuming, but Ice warns him and the others, "No matter who or what is eatin' you... Man, you show it and you are dead!", followed by, "Ya wanna live in this lousy world? Play it cool."

In the original play, "Cool" was performed prior to the rumble while "Gee, Officer Krupke" was performed afterward. For the film, the two songs were switched on a request from lyricist Stephen Sondheim, who disliked the Broadway sequence feeling that it was unfitting for a street gang to perform a comedy number right after their leader was killed in a rumble; in a later interview, Russ Tamblyn said he felt the switch was a smart idea.

Use in popular cultureEdit

In 2011, actor Harry Shum Jr. performed the song, as his character Mike Chang from TV series Glee, in the third episode of season 3, "Asian F" (aired on October 4).[2]

An episode of Animaniacs features a parody version as "Coo Bird" sung by Bobby of The Goodfeathers. The song is also parodied in the Flight of the Conchords episode The Tough Brets with the song "Stay Cool, Bret".

The Castle episode "Cool Boys" has Richard Castle and Detective Slaughter sing it to distract some criminals hold them at gunpoint.

British sketch show Horrible Histories parodied this song as a song about the English Civil War.


  1. ^ Nigel Simeone, Leonard Bernstein, West Side story (Ashgate Publishing, 2009), ISBN 978-0754664840, pp. 84, 102. Excerpts available at Google Books.
  2. ^ Stephens, Samantha (October 4, 2011). "'Glee': Mike Chang's 'Asian F' earns an A+". The Republican (Springfield, Massachusetts). Retrieved 23 February 2017.