The song is a love duet between the protagonists Tony and Maria, sung while Tony visits Maria on the fire escape outside her apartment. West Side Story is a modernized adaptation of Shakespeare's Romeo and Juliet set in 20th-century New York; the scene in which "Tonight" appears is the adaptation of Romeo and Juliet's famous "balcony scene".
Many of the pieces in West Side Story experiment with different melodic tricks. This song is notable for its prominent perfect fourth intervals, and a theme that starts on a pentatonic scale but develops into a western key.
In the original 1957 Broadway production of Wesr Side Story, "Tonight" was performed by Larry Kert and Carol Lawrence in the roles of Tony and Maria. In the 1961 film adaptation of the musical, the song was performed by Marni Nixon (dubbing Natalie Wood as Maria) and Jimmy Bryant (dubbing Richard Beymer as Tony). This rendition of the song is listed at #59 on AFI's 100 Years...100 Songs survey of top tunes in American cinema.
The song was released in 1961 as a single in versions by Ferrante & Teicher (#8 pop, #2 easy listening) and Eddie Fisher, whose version narrowly missed the Top 40. Shirley Bassey recorded the song in 1962, where it peaked at #21 on the UK charts, becoming the only recording of this song to chart on the UK charts. Jay and the Americans also released a cover version of the song. Andy Williams released a version on his 1962 album, Moon River and Other Great Movie Themes. Sergio Franchi recorded the song in his 1963 RCA Records Red Seal album, Broadway, I Love You. We Five released the song on their 1966 album, You Were on My Mind. Gloria Gaynor released a disco version in 1980. Jenna Ushkowitz sang the song on Glee, on the episode Preggers. Tonight was featured again in the fifth episode of the third season of the show, "The First Time", this time sung by Lea Michele and Darren Criss. Billy Eckstine recorded the song in 1961 with Hal Mooney And His Orchestra. Gloria Estefan recorded the song with Dave Grusin on the album Dave Grusin Presents West Side Story (1997).
- Berson, Misha (2011). Something's Coming, Something Good: West Side Story and the American Imagination. Milwaukee: Applause Theatre & Cinema Books. p. 96. ISBN 9781557837660.
- Ferrante & Teicher's charting singles Retrieved February 6, 2012.
- Eddie Fisher's charting singles Retrieved February 6, 2012.
- Sergio Franchi, Broadway, I Love You Retrieved February 6, 2012
- We Five, You Were on My Mind Retrieved March 7, 2012.