‘West Side Story’: The Uncredited Singer Behind Tony Is Featured On Several Famous Soundtracks

Broadway musicals started out on stage, eventually becoming part of film after Hollywood became more prominent. Movie musicals resonated with audiences, and they are still getting produced today. One classic is none other than West Side Story.  

The film is making headlines again now that there is going to be a reboot. It is about two star-crossed lovers in New York City. A lot of people still remember some of the music, but what people may not know is that someone else sang the songs in place of Tony’s actor. 

(L-R) Richard Beymer and Natalie Wood having romantic moment wardrobe shop in a scene from the film 'West Side Story',
(L-R) Richard Beymer and Natalie Wood | United Artists/Getty Images

‘West Side Story’ is a musical about two lovers

West Side Story is a 1961 musical romantic drama that takes place in 1950s New York City. The story centers around two gangs that are fighting over the control of the Upper West Side. There are the Jets, a white gang, and the Sharks, a Puerto Rican gang.  

Tony, the co-founder of the Jets, meets Maria, who is the sister of the Shark’s leader. The two of them fall in love. However, their associations with rival groups get in the way of their romance. The premise is similar to that of Romeo and Juliet, but only one of them dies instead of both. 

The film adaptation of the musical became a hit, and fans consider it to be a classic in popular culture. It won 10 Oscars for categories like Sound and Costume Design. It starred the popular actor Natalie Wood as Maria.  

Richard Beymer played Tony on-screen. Tony is best friends with the leader of the Jets and tries to stop the fighting. The character was Beymer’s best-known role, and it earned him a Golden Globe nomination. 

‘West Side Story’ used ghost singers

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While Beymer charmed viewers with his performance on the big screen, someone else was responsible for the character’s musical talents. Another person sang the songs, and their vocals got dubbed over the actor’s voice. It may seem strange, but it was quite a common practice at the time. 

Movie musicals in the mid-1900s often used ghost singers to perform the songs. Part of the reason was that Hollywood wanted to keep up the illusions that it was known for during its Golden Age. Unfortunately, ghost singers did not receive film credit for their efforts. Not to mention, they got paid less than the actors that appeared on camera. 

Marni Nixon was a successful ghost singer for some of the most famous performers, such as Marilyn Monroe. According to BuzzFeed, Jimmy Bryant voiced the singing parts of Tony in West Side Story. Fans can thank the ghost singer for the memorable songs “Somewhere” and “Tonight.” 

Jimmy Bryant’s singing career

Not to be confused with guitarist Jimmy Bryant, the ghost singer was no doubt an obvious choice for the movie’s filmmakers. Bryant is not only a singer but a composer as well. According to AllMusic, he started singing when he was only 5 years old. He also toured Florida with the Dixie Boys Choir. 

As an adult, he moved to New York City to do work as an arranger, orchestrator, and singer. Bryant performed a lot for movies and television shows. Most people may know him best for being the singing talent of Tony in West Side Story.  

Other notable roles include the ’60s TV show Batman. Actor Adam West quickly became the face of Batman when he starred in the series. However, Bryant helped made the iconic theme song of the show. He dubbed over James Fox in the movie musical Thoroughly Modern Millie.  

Millions of people have likely listened to his vocals without realizing it. Like many other ghost singers at the time, much of his work went uncredited.