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West Side Story

Duration:
30 minutes
First broadcast:
Tuesday 20 May 2014

Frances Fyfield is joined by Conductor Marin Alsop, writer Nigel Simeone and Librarian Mark Horowitz to explore the boxes full of scores and sketches from Leonard Bernstein's 1957 Broadway smash - West Side Story. They're the proud property of the Library of Congress in Washington DC where the musical was first tried in an 'out-of-town' run before hitting Broadway.
It was something of a tortured collaboration between writer Arthur Laurents, choreographer and director Jerome Robbins and Bernstein himself along with a young Stephen Sondheim. The manuscripts tell the story of Bernstein's ambitions for an operatic score thwarted according to the composer or channelled and controlled according to history. Time and again numbers are cut back, honed, re-worked and refined until we reach the familiar show hits 'Somewhere', 'America', 'Tonight' and 'Somethings coming' which are so familiar today.
Librarian Horowitz also reveals the examples of music Bernstein culled from earlier works and other bits that were composed for the show but ended up in his later Chichester Psalms.
The writing is always neat but increasingly hectic as the rehearsals start in the summer of 1957.
The programme is intercut with extracts from Bernstein's letters to his wife in which he divulged his frustration at what was happening to 'my poor little score'. In the event he rejoiced with his team when the reviews were beyond their wildest dreams.
And there are gems beyond the musical scores. Bernstein's audition books reveal that Warren Beatty was amongst those who tried out for a part. 'Charming as hell' according to the composer but ultimately not quite right.

Producer: Tom Alban.

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