Prelude, Fugue & Riffs

"Maria" A Fairy Tale

by Carol Lawrence

Recalling the magnificent memories of being blessed with being a part of the original company of West Side Story is like walking into a wondrous fairy tale of long ago! It was fifty years ago, and the rules were different. First of all, it took me thirteen auditions to get the role of Maria; when Actors Equity found out, they were furious. They promptly passed a law that only allowed producers three auditions before they must pay the actor to audition again. The truth is that I would have auditioned a hundred times if the geniuses creating the show had asked me.

It was evident to everyone in the company that this project was extraordinary in every aspect. Transposing Shakespeare’s warring families to the world of racial strife and bigotry in America was enough to place the musical in a class all its own. Leonard Bernstein’s operatic/jazz/ classical score was like nothing ever heard before on a Broadway stage. The book by Arthur Laurents revered Shakespeare while adding a biting edge of rebellion, and a demand for justice. Stephen Sondheim was the Wunderkind who brought a cryptic, youthful, stinging insight onto the scene. Hal Prince and Robert Griffith brought their courageous vision and practical expertise to what every wise Broadway sage warned was a commercial impossibility. And Jerome Robbins set his original concept of telling the heartbreaking love story of Romeo and Juliet in the brutal streets of NYC on a plane of perfection never dreamed of before or since.

Jerry demanded the impossible of everyone around him everyday at rehearsals — but demanded even more of himself. He was our model of dedication, integrity, honesty, energy, imagination, creativity, fortitude, courage, and triumph. He just never gave up, and would not allow you the option either. His subtext to the entire effort was: “Intolerance is just not acceptable!”

I believe that is the underlying message the show carries around the world even today. It is being produced in more than sixty venues this year, and no doubt it will continue for years to come. I’m proud to have been there through the labor pains that gave birth to such a masterpiece! With great love and appreciation, Carol Lawrence.

Carol Lawrence created the role of Maria in the original Broadway production of West Side Story, and went onto a career in stage, screen, recording and television.

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