Prelude, Fugue & Riffs

West Side Story: Birth of a Classic

by Mark Horowitz

Fifty years ago, on September 26, 1957, West Side Story opened on Broadway. The Library of Congress honors this historic musical with an exhibit of items, mostly taken from our extensive Leonard Bernstein Collection.

The exhibit includes unique items, such as Bernstein's annotated copy of Romeo and Juliet; early drafts and outlines of the script; a rich and thoughtful letter and choreographic notes from the show's director/choreographer, Jerome Robbins; two original water-color set designs by the designer, Oliver Smith; original music manuscripts; a facsimile of a Stephen Sondheim lyric sketch for the song "Somewhere"; a fascinating series of letters from Bernstein to his wife, reporting on the show's progress out-oftown in Washington, DC; and amusing opening night telegrams from the likes of Lauren Bacall, and Betty Comden and Adolph Green. There are audition notes that reveal auditonees including Warren Beatty ("Good voice— can't open his jaw — charming as hell — cleancut"), and Jerry Orbach. As an added bonus, the Library has had the very first prints made of several never-before- seen production photographs taken for a Look magazine feature spread that never ran.

The exhibit will be on display for six months in the outer-lobby of the Perfoming Arts Reading Room (LM-113) of the James Madison Building of the Library of Congress, 101 Independence Avenue, SE, starting on September 24th. The exhibit will then move for another six months to the Library of Congress/Ira Gershwin Gallery at the Walt Disney Concert Hall in Los Angeles. In addition, there will be an online version of the exhibit accessible through the Library's website at

On Monday evening, October 15th, the Music Division of the Library of Congress, in partnership with Signature Theatre in Arlington, VA, will present a unique concert in the Library's Coolidge Auditorium to celebrate the 50th Anniversary of West Side Story, the exhibit, and the Library's Bernstein Collection. The concert will include performances of songs cut from West Side Story, early versions of songs with variant lyrics, readings from some of the papers in the Bernstein Collection, and other surprises.

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