Prelude, Fugue & Riffs: Fall/Winter 2007-2008

To Our Readers

How can something be as fresh, as brilliant, as explosively urgent as "West Side Story," and be 50 years old? How can this brand new idea for the American theatre have been around for half a century?

Leonard Bernstein used to say that he wished he could write the Great American Opera. He was still designing such a project shortly before his death. But in retrospect, we can say that he fulfilled his wish. "West Side Story" is performed to enthusiastic audiences in opera houses around the world — recently in La Scala and, before this year is out, at the Théâtre du Châtelet in Paris. Is there a Broadway revival in the works? The signs are highly auspicious.

In this issue, we celebrate "West Side Story": its authors, its original performers, and its continuing vital presence in the world. Chita Rivera regrets that, due to scheduling conflicts, she was unable to contribute to this issue by print time.

"West Side Story" continues to break ground to this very day. Earlier this year, the show was performed by inmates at Sing Sing. A few months later, it was presented as part of a conflict resolution initiative for warring street gangs in Seattle. And if there’s a heaven, Leonard Bernstein was up there dancing for joy last summer while Gustavo Dudamel led his sensational 200-piece Simón Bolívar Youth Orchestra in the "Mambo" at the Proms in London. The audience went bonkers. Check it out:

There are few theatrical experiences as reliably thrilling as a student production of "West Side Story". In high schools and colleges across America, teenagers throw themselves into the show with the passionate commitment that comes from feeling that a work of art is speaking directly to one’s soul. Leonard Bernstein’s score is notoriously difficult, but the young musicians and singers tear into it with gusto. The DVD of "West Side Story" is a top rental for kids, whose parents marvel as their 5 year olds jump around the furniture playing "Jets and Sharks" and singing at the top of their lungs. Clearly "West Side Story" speaks in some essential way to young people — and that, above all, is the quality that will keep this work itself forever young.


"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!


West Side Story — 50 years old?

by Reri Grist

Strange! — it seems only a short time ago that we, the Sharks and Jets girls, were upstairs in our large, common dressing room on an upper floor of the Winter Garden Theater chatting away happily as we changed into our vibrant red and lavender or bright yellow and blue costumes, preparing for the next evening show.


Stephen Sondheim

by Stephen Sondheim

I was worried about bothering Stephen Sondheim with questions about West Side Story; surely, I thought, he'd prefer to talk about the shows for which he'd written both lyrics and music. Robbins, Laurents and Bernstein were partway into the project when Steve was brought in to work on the lyrics. But Steve surprised me with his candor as well as his ppreciation of his colleagues. — J.B.


The True Gesture — Jerome Robbins and West Side Story

by Amanda Vaill

As credits go, it's a small thing: a line, under the title, West Side Story, that says, "Based on a conception of Jerome Robbins."


From Arthur Laurents

by Arthur Laurents

In '08, I will be directing a very different production of West Side Story that will open on Broadway in late November.


Leonard Bernstein's Orchestrator

by Sid Ramin

Being chosen to orchestrate for Leonard Bernstein, himself a fine orchestrator, is akin to being awarded the Medal of Honor.


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.


Experiencing West Side Story

by John Mauceri

In May I conducted West Side Story for the very first time. An all-school production at the North Carolina School of the Arts under the stage direction of Gerald Freedman filled the Roger Stevens Center for twelve performances and broke all house records, raising more than $300,000 for the school.


Conducting West Side Story

by Donald Chan

The question I am asked the most is: After over 2,000 performances and approximately 50 or so different productions, do you still enjoy working on and performing West Side Story?


The West Side Story Project

by Molly Fortin

Earlier this year, in an unprecedented partnership, the Seattle Police Department (SPD) and Seattle's 5th Avenue Theatre launched The West Side Story Project, an innovative approach to youth gang violence prevention.


In the News

Leonard Bernstein Scholar-In-Residence; Bernstein on CD; Philadelphia Salutes Bernstein; and more.


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