BERNSTEIN ON BROADWAY

 

Developed by Michael Barrett and Jamie Bernstein 
                                    Written by Jamie Bernstein


(EXCERPTS)

 

1.


After many, many travails, our heroine, Cunegonde, has become an expensive courtesan in Paris. As she laments her sordid circumstances, she suddenly remembers her dear Dr. Pangloss’s theory of optimism: that all is for the best in this best of all possible worlds – that’s right: even war, disease and deadly earthquakes! So Cunegonde scolds herself to look on the bright side –that being, of course, the cascades of jewels ornamenting her from head to toe. Here is “Glitter and be Gay” – Broadway’s very own ode to bling.    
               
                                    GLITTER AND BE GAY

 

2.

 

Now I'd like to tell you a little bit about how West Side Story came into the world. Director Jerome Robbins' original concept was not about Jets and Sharks at all; he first wanted the gangs to be Jews and Catholics, with everyone's strong feelings boiling over during the Easter and Passover holidays. But somehow the idea just wasn't clicking for Bernstein.

 

But when Jerry Robbins decided to make one street gang Puerto Rican,  everything suddenly came together. Now Bernstein knew how to write his music! The Jets would move to the cool American sounds of bebop jazz, while the Sharks would dance to the restless, syncopated Latin rhythms of the mambo. There it was: the Jets were cool; the Sharks were hot. Music, dancing, costumes – everything fell into place.

 

But just because a show is a hit doesn’t mean any less agony went into its creation. In the summer of 1957, my father was feverishly finishing the score of West Side Story in time for the August opening in Washington D.C. To get little 5-year-old me out of the stinking New York City heat, my mother took me down to South America to visit her family in Chile. While I played with my cousins, my parents kept in touch through the mail.

 

July 19: "Darling: the work grinds on, relentlessly, and sleep is a rare blessing. It's going to be murder from here on in. "

 

July 23:  "The show -- ah yes. I am depressed with it. All the aspects of the score I like best -- the big, poetic parts -- get criticized as "operatic" -- and there's a concerted move to chuck them. What's the use? I am tired and nervous…This is the last show I do." [Not true.] (...)

 

August 13th: "Well look-a me. Back to the nation's capital and right on the verge. We open Monday. Everyone's coming, my dear, even Nixon and 35 admirals… I tell you this show may yet be worth all the agony. As you can see, I'm excited as hell."

 

A few days later, the reviews were in. The Daily News said the show opened " a new field in the American stage." After the New York opening the following month, the Herald Tribune said, "The radioactive fallout from West Side Story must still be descending on Broadway this morning." But my personal favorite, from the Seattle Times, offered this perceptive criticism: "Perhaps the love story is a little too reminiscent of Romeo & Juliet."