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Letters Show Leonard Bernstein Almost Walked Away From WEST SIDE STORY

by BWW News Desk

The Guardian writes that a new collection of letters by famed composer Leonard Bernstein -- Nigel Simeone's Leonard Bernstein Letters, set to debut next month -- reveal the composer's 'hostility' for WEST SIDE STORY book writer Arthur Laurents. Bernstein even considered walking away from the project, according to one of the letters.

"I'm sorry you've decided not to do the show," Laurents wrote in a 1949 correspondence with Bernstein, adding that "hostility had popped up" between the creators.

"He was a very complicated man," author Simeone said. "That's one of the really intriguing things to emerge from the letters in general are the contradictions, the self doubt -- things you don't associate with the public persona of Bernstein."

Read the original report here .

The letters also touch on the first drafts of WEST SIDE STORY. Laurents's first pass was originally called EAST SIDE STORY, and Bernstein supposedly disagreed with Laurents about whether the show should be an operetta -- Bernstein's preference -- or a work of lyric theatre. With the intervention of Jerome Robbins and the addition of the then up-and-coming lyricist Stephen Sondheim, WEST SIDE STORY began to come together.

A large portion of the letters in the collection come from the Library of Congress in Washington, D.C., which released them to the public three years ago. Before he died in 1990, Bernstein wrote to composer Aaron Copland, Felicia Montealegre, his friends, his brother Burton and more.

WEST SIDE STORY features book by Laurents, music by Bernstein, lyrics by Sondheim and conception and choreography by Robbins. Inspired by Shakespeare's Romeo and Juliet, the musical is set in NYC's Upper West Side in the mid-1950s and follows the rivalry between the Jets and the Sharks -- two street gangs of different ethnic backgrounds -- centering on the tragic romance between Tony and Maria, each from the "other" side.

The musical opened on Broadway in 1957, directed by Robbins. It was nominated for six Tony Awards and won two -- one for choreography and one for scenic design (Oliver Smith). WEST SIDE STORY then went on tour, opened in London, popped up in many revivals, and eventually spread across the globe. In 1961, Natalie Wood, Richard Beymer, Rita Moreno and more starred in the iconic film version of the musical. It won ten Academy Awards, including Best Picture.

Bernstein was the long-time music director of the New York Philharmonic, as well as the composer for WEST SIDE STORY, CANDIDE, WONDERFUL TOWN, ON THE TOWN and more. A versatile creator, Bernstein wrote ballets, operas, musicals, film scores, orchestral pieces, choral pieces, chamber music, piano music and more. He has received the George Peabody Medal, eight GRAMMY Awards and two Tonys.
Tags: 1957 broadway, arthur laurents, books, leonard bernstein

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