Speaker Well, I was a real ballet fan, I was only a ballet fan and I knew nothing else about anything else but ballet, and that's all I ever wanted to know. And I went to the Met one night when Ballet Theatre came back into town. I was a scholarship student in a ballet theatre at the time. And I went to see I think it was a part of the Black Swan and they were also had fancy free on the on the program. And I said, you know, I don't know if I want to stay for this. It's not really ballet, you know. And I, I don't think I've ever seen anything that changed my life and my career as quickly as I did. It was the most amazing. I think it was the thing it was it was something I had never seen before in my life, and I just said that's what I want to do. That's exactly what I want to do. And I really wasn't into choreographer's then. I really didn't know too much about them, what they did. And I but I suddenly knew I wanted to find out who was responsible for this. And I found out who was responsible for it. And at the time, Jerry was working with the City Center Ballet, so I didn't get a chance to see him very much. He wasn't around at the time, but he did come in to rehearse fancy free at one time. And I was sort of a substitute at the time. You know, if somebody got hurt, they would send me in. I wasn't really a member of the company, so I met him at the time and he saw me do a little bit and he said, I'd like to meet you again sometime. I'm got some projects going. And I said, you know, great, you know? But then I went on to do some of the things I did, Little Abner, and something came up. Four bells are ringing, which Jerry was doing, and he called me in for that while I was still rehearsing there. And I felt kind of strange about going in while I was rehearsing another show. But I went and met him again. And Bob Fosi was there and I danced for Jerry at that time. And he said, you know, you know, it's not you don't feel right. And I said, no, I don't feel right about leaving one show for another show. And he said, well, I'm doing another project. And it was called Gang Way at the time. And he said, I really would like for you to feel to do that. And I said that I would love to do because to work for him is the fancy free in my mind and interplay. So then what side came about? And he called me in and I met the first producer at the time was Cheryl Crawford, and I never just met her and said hello to her. And she looked at me and I looked at her and Jerry said, OK, and that was it. And then they went through a whole bunch of producer changes and Griffith and Prince came in and I never really met them. And I never really danced again for Jerry. I just came for the policeman when he wanted to see everybody together. And then that was it. And I was in the show.

Speaker Before we go on, can you tell me what it was about? Fancy for you that so captured your imagination.

Speaker Yeah. You know, it wasn't just steps.

Speaker You know, as a dancer, you have a choreographer comes in and gives you steps and you perform the steps the best of your ability or imitate that step to the best of your ability. With Jerry, it was more than steps. It meant something. You really had to think about what you were doing. It was the first time I really I had a pretty good ability as a dancer. So that was easy for me. But I never thought really thought about what I was doing and what what I was doing meant something. And then also to make it your own, but yet make it your own and and to make your own identity, but still to keep within the framework of what he wanted to do. And that was that was tough. But that was Jerry's genius. He was able to do that.

Speaker You mentioned you also danced in Interplay.

Speaker How was I know I never danced into play. I rehearsed into play. I never danced into play. I was that those were happy moments. I mean, anything of Jerry's was just thrilling.

Speaker So you didn't audition for West Side, asked you to be in?

Speaker I never really auditioned.

Speaker No, I sang once, I think for Lenny Bernstein and Cheryl Crawford probably very badly, because I never got to sing any of the songs by myself. And that was it. I never, never auditioned Dance Wise and only was called back to the final curtain call when they were just placing people.

Speaker Did Jerry ever talk to you excuse me about the how he got the original idea for West Side Story.

Speaker How he got the original idea for West Side Story is seems to be a bone of contention around a lot of ways. I think Jerry had originally come up with the idea about taking Romeo and Juliet and doing gangs, and I think he had friends. Who helped him elaborate on that idea, as you know, somebody said anybody can have a great idea, it's the execution, it's bringing it to fruition. So maybe somebody said to Jerry, why don't you make it a Puerto Rican gang instead of an Asian gang or something? It was still the gangs. It was Jerry's concept. And no matter what what it's been said about it and who came up with other I mean, when you when you have a production meeting, you have a lot of talented people. I mean, they were Stephen Sondheim, Lenny Bernstein, author, Lawrence, I'm sure they all bounced off the walls, a lot of ideas. So I would say that, you know, there was a lot of influx from people, but I think basically was Jerry's idea to do two gangs and that's what we ended up with.

Speaker Tell me about the rehearsal process you had done other another Broadway show, so how is the West Side rehearsal process different from how everybody else work?

Speaker I had done another show before where I had done a little avenue and Broadway for Michael Kidd, another great choreographer. It was all fun and games and like I said, it was steps they gave us steps to do in the style to do, and that's what he did. It just imitated and did it. Jerry's rehearsal was much more intense. It was I felt more organized. I felt he was more organized.

Speaker I felt that there was a real plan to rehearsal. There was a plan of what we did. And there was a reason why we were doing all these steps and what it meant to him and what it should mean to us and we should find our own meaning, but come out the same as so it was a whole nother way of working. It was a completely different way for me. It was.

Speaker I don't want to say that I was an actor, but I felt like I was a dancer who was learning what an actor has to indulge themselves in, besides not just learning the steps and the words, he had to learn to do something with them. And that's what Jerry really pushed for us.

Speaker Now, he did away, as I understand it, completely with the singing chorus and the dancing chorus and all the things, the conventions that had been prevalent on Broadway before then. So as somebody who was working then on Broadway, can you tell me how that impacted the company?

Speaker Could you repeat that question before West Side Story? There was essentially there would every show would have a singing chorus and a dancing chorus. I got that didn't have West Side Story. No upside down.

Speaker Jerry didn't have the conventional show of the singing chorus and the dancing chorus. Jerry said everybody has a part. Some have a smaller part. Some have a bigger part. You all have a role to play. You need to find that role. And this is something new for dancers.

Speaker Dancers were just given. Like I said, we were given steps to do in a series of how to do them, but we had to learn what these were about and we had to find an identity. We all had a right, by the way, our own bios about what our background was, what our life was, what our street was. We had to write a whole book about who we were and how we reacted to our parents, who our parents were, how we felt about our parents. So we all had a role. So it wasn't just going out, learning the words, learning the music, learning the steps, learning the lines that we had, where to go on stage. It was more involvement, I think, for dancers than they ever had. And there wasn't one dancer who didn't love it. Absolutely. Just love it, love sitting down writing. And I mean, there were a few actors in the show who had acting classes, I think before that, who sort of had an inkling about what to do, but I never had.

Speaker So it was a completely new experience for me. And in a way, I always want to say about West Side Story. I grew up in West Side Story. I learned what performing was more about. Not that I was great. I don't I don't mean to say that I was a great performer or got that much better, but I felt like I grew up and like I learned I was learning about what I should be doing on stage.

Speaker He was working with a lot of young people with minimal experience. So what techniques did he use with these young actors, dancers?

Speaker They got performances of Gerry's technique with learning, with inexperienced people. Teaching inexperienced people was do what I tell you to do. And and, you know, he gave us leeway, but he was very, very strict. Jerry was a perfectionist. I don't know whether he ever attain the perfection, but we certainly tried for it. He had very he was very clear about who the characters were, about what he wanted us to do. And we rehearsed very, very hard. I mean, we had very few five minute breaks. And those were because we had to. He really was a leader. He was a leader, we really looked to him to lead us. He was a mentor, he was a leader. He he became my idol, certainly. And. He really I don't want to say put a ring around our nose and let us, but he sort of let us down paths, we would be able to find things to jump on that we understood that we could take further and he would let us go further with that. And I think that's where a lot of the identities and the original company of West Side came forward because some of the characters named themselves, they were not all in the book like guitar and rope. These guys found their own identity. And through that, they they got their own characters.

Speaker Can you give me an example of how you did that?

Speaker You know, how he how he led us that way was I might find it difficult to explain that because it was so smooth, it was so transparent in a way. I don't know he. Well, he constantly had articles up on the on the bulletin board about gangs and about people and how how they lived and every incident that was possibly happening on the street, it wasn't like it was today. But we would read these articles every day. And he made us he made the two gangs really separate. And I think by making a separate he gave us our own families and our families got stronger. And I think because of that strength, there was really a great conflict between the two. And I think that's the way he led us.

Speaker What do you mean he made the gangs separate?

Speaker You know, we we ended up not liking each other very much at all. The two gangs, it was a lot of competition and he used that competition against us. You know, the sharks are doing this a lot better than you guys are. They're really they're really have a lot more unity. They're more together. And, you know, we went out, what are we going to do? So the Jets went out and we all bought hats, so we all had blue hats on. So it gave us a sense of identity, of being a family, a unit. And then he when we did the dance hall, for instance, nobody knew what the other one was going to do to get the attention. I think he had one of the short girls faint at one time in the middle of rehearsal. So we all kind of turned and we stopped and the sharks took over and he went, there you go. You got to be on your toes. So it was it was it was pretty good. I mean, I you know, it was you didn't really know he was doing and yet he was doing and he was he was sort of like the puppeteer with the strings that you didn't see him just sort of move people around.

Speaker Now, this enforced separation of the jets and the sharks. One point created a little bit of a dilemma for you personally.

Speaker Yes, there was. I started dating one of the shark girls, one of the shark, Anita Chita Rivera, and.

Speaker It just so happened that the the jet boys didn't speak to me for about two weeks of rehearsal, I was completely shut out. I mean, they were really angry.

Speaker It wasn't just let's just do it. They were really angry. So I had to work my way around. Eventually, we did.

Speaker How?

Speaker Well, I just you know, I sat down with them in the dressing room in a rehearsal period and I just said, hey, look, guys, I'm part of the Jets. You know, I mean, what I'm doing out there is my personal life. We got to keep our gang together. If I'm separate from you, then we're not we're not we're not a family. So we got to try to get back together again. I said that has nothing to do with it. And they sort of bought that. They said, as long as we don't see you with it, we're OK. So that so we sort of went on our own ways when we went out afterwards.

Speaker And how did that actually work itself out of.

Speaker Which do you mean, what out with try to work out?

Speaker We got married. Yeah, that worked out pretty good, and we had a baby, of course.

Speaker Um. Give me a second.

Speaker You talked before about. Um, that you weren't just doing steps, that you were dancing about something the way Jerry explained it to, and I wonder if you can give me anything in the way of specificity how how you use specificity. In other words, if he gave you a step, you would say something to you, like you've got the world on your shoulders or can you give me any examples of those things?

Speaker One jury described what we were doing.

Speaker For instance, I can give you an example in the prologue and the opening, we start sitting on the steps and we all sort of move in. But when we go down and out and we got up off the steps, there was a step.

Speaker Where we opened up our arms and we sort of went from side to side, and that was an indication of us owning this property, we owned it from there and we owned it from there. And we had to show that this was all of ours and we had to feel that it was all. You couldn't just do it and say, I'm going from here to here, because I don't think the audience would have felt that, you know, the whole opening prologue was about 11 minutes long. There's no dialogue. And it told the whole story. So he did it through the steps and how what it meant to us. And every step, like a step in the prologue, meant something. It meant something that we had to do to portray to the audience.

Speaker How do you work with you or how do you work with the ones on the style? Because the style of West Side Story is different also than what?

Speaker The style of West Side Story was very different, I think, especially at that time, I would say. Jerry sort of found it with us. I don't think Jerry came in, I mean, Jerry had an idea of certain steps that he wanted to do that showed certain things that he wanted to teach us. But I think Jerry watched us perform as he was teaching us what what we were doing. And I think the style evolved out of what he was seeing, where he saw the strengths of what we were doing. He used the strengths of the of the gentleman dancers. What we had, he didn't give us that specific I mean, like, again, he he told us what the steps were and what they were supposed to mean. We had to find out how to do it. And I think the style evolved out of him watching and seeing. And he went further with it. He would go further with it.

Speaker You talk before a little bit about the collaborators and they were an extraordinary team. Do you think recollections of how they interacted?

Speaker The collaborators really weren't around a lot during rehearsal.

Speaker Jerry did.

Speaker Not like too many people around watching author was around occasionally.

Speaker Lenny worked with us on like the quintet and the jet song, which there were numerous jet songs before we opened on Broadway, I'd say about six. But as far as hearing anything in a production meeting, no, we never we never heard what the mentors spoke about. And I'm sure the jury probed them in the meetings and got, you know, bounced ideas around with them. And they kind of I'm sure that they instilled things into Jerry. I don't think, you know, Jerry did it everything, but. I kind of think he did, but, you know, other people have different opinions.

Speaker Well, since Lenny was around working with you both, did you witness any interaction between the two of them?

Speaker And what was that attraction, even attraction between Jerry? Oh, interaction between Jerry and Lenny. They were they liked each other a lot. And Lenny had great respect for Jerry. Well, they had worked together before and a few things. And Lenny, I think probably if Jerry wanted to change something, Lenny would go along with it really easy because he knew what Jerry was going for and what he needed to get to. I don't I think that Lenny and Jerry really worked well together. I mean, I never saw any disagreement between them whatsoever. I mean, I never did. And and I don't think anybody ever did, certainly when the company was around.

Speaker What did Gerri give you as a director that you didn't get from anybody else?

Speaker Oh, wow, you know, I'd have to say incredible confidence. Did you make us incorporate the question what Jerry Robbins gave me as a director that no one else gave me or what I felt from another director? I would say that Jerome Robbins instilled great confidence in me personally that I was doing exactly what he pictured it would be. And that made me feel like king of the world. And I felt like I could go out and do anything. And I think they did that for most people. But, you know, he treated everybody differently. He found like Michael Carlin, Michael needed to be completely pounded down and then built up. And he built him up in the image of what he saw Riff was. And then Mickey had to take riff and make it that. So Mickey had to do it. Jerry didn't make him, you know, and say, but there you are. You Riff. He built him into that different kind of a person. Never Mickey never lost the charm that he had. He always kept that charm on stage. But he really helped because because Mickey was really over. He wasn't really a dancer. He was a tap dancer, more or less, and not a lot of dance training. And Jerry really got him to the point of where he had the confidence that he could dance with the rest of the dancers, which I think was incredible, I think.

Speaker How did you do that confidence? He Jerry Robbins instills great confidence in dancers.

Speaker He gives you so much.

Speaker It's like Jerry would say to you, he'd give you 25 ideas about one way to drink a glass of water, and you would take out that one way, throw out the other 24 that he said and try that one way. And if it worked, he let you know it worked. And he was you could see the beaming face and he gave you confidence to be able to even go further with it and make it better. And that's what he did. He always made people get better. You always got better with Jerry. You never just hit a stride and stayed there. You got better. The show got better as we went from Washington to Philadelphia to New York, previews to opening and even after the opening, it got better.

Speaker You talked about Mickey. And I think Mickey had a tough time with Jerry.

Speaker He had a very tough time. Yeah, Jerry. Jerry got very frustrated, I think, with Michael, because he I think what he was expecting more from from Michael and Michael. You know, we mentioned once before about the experience and I don't think Michael had the experience of having the responsibility of that big a role. That was a very big role, ref. It's a huge role. And I think what Jerry needed to do was to he just relentlessly pounded Michael relentlessly.

Speaker And I think that I don't think that was exactly the reason he did it, was to give to to to to make Michael so strong.

Speaker Michael became stronger instead of somebody just saying, well, that's it, I'm leaving, I'm quitting, I'm getting out of here. Well, he just got sturdier and stronger. And and yet as he was building him up and he kept that strength, Jerry never dissipated that charm that he loved from from Michael. So he had the charm now and he gave him the strength and then he gave him the confidence.

Speaker And Michael was very confident, opening night, very confident. And I saw a lot of rehearsals where he wasn't confident that he was giving Jerry what he thought Jerry wanted. But opening night, boy, I sure do remember the confidence that he had.

Speaker I want to talk a little bit about the taunting scene, because I understand the jury told you that that scene reminded him of something that happened to him when he was a child.

Speaker Yes. Yes.

Speaker The taunting scene was, I think, something that he used when he was a child, when he would go to summer summer camp. And I think Jerry's big fear with worms. And he remembered this one kid, he was explaining this to Cheeta and he was explaining that this one kid, while somebody held him, was dangling this worm in front of him.

Speaker And Jerry was petrified. And he gave Cheeta that feeling of that's what was happening to her. We were holding her and we we were giving her that worm. Jerry was afraid of the taunting scene, actually. It was the one scene that he really thought he was going to have major problems with getting, surprisingly enough, and I think he staged it, I would say less than an hour and a half the scene was staged and that was it never changed. It was exactly it.

Speaker Whereas cool. He thought he had cool. He thought cool was going to be the no, he was never happy with cool, I think till the movie. He liked what he did in the movie with called.

Speaker We're going to talk about cool in a minute, because I want to talk a lot about that, but. Why do you think he was afraid of a taunting thing?

Speaker I think he was afraid that he he was afraid of the taunting scene, I believe, because he was afraid he couldn't convey.

Speaker You know, again, Jerry being that perfectionist of exactly the structure he wanted, whether, again, you know, you working with a lot of inexperienced people, Cheeta was probably the most experienced of everybody. And she really had one sort of starring role under her belt. And Mr. Wonderful. So. And you had a lot of. Jets at that point, and our leader, Michael, was not there, Riffe was not there, so we had to take over the gang and we had to really scare the hell out of this this lady and get her to the point of where she gets to where she lies. To us, it's a big story point. And I think he was afraid that he couldn't get that emotion from all of us to get her up to there. So I think he was really frightened of it. Lo and behold, what he was frightened of, like I say, I don't think it was an hour and a half and it was staged and it never changed. And it was a brilliant scene, brilliancy.

Speaker You're a director yourself, I wonder if you could talk a little bit about this cinematic way in which Jerry staged the show, by which I mean the flow from one thing to the next.

Speaker The flow from the stage play to me and making it into a movie.

Speaker No, I mean the internal pacing in the show, for example, the transition to the Jim. Where, you know, in one fell swoop, Maria sort of twirls and all the streamers come down and all of a sudden, you know, you just talking about the show, I'm just talking about the show.

Speaker You know, I thought that was a brilliant concept. Whatever it was, I don't know if it was Jeri's. Who knows? I know he was looking for a transition and he just didn't want you know what what we have on stage of trucks, you know, the little trucks. And he just didn't want one truck to come off and just the dancers to come on. He needed sort of a kind of a dissolve. I don't know if you've ever seen the Kabuki theater with that curtain comes down and it's sort of just splits and goes off. I think that's what he was looking for, that sort of diffusion, that sort of cinematic fade, if you might say, you know, the the fade into into one scene. And so as the truck was going off and she started turning, he needed something in the middle. And it was probably all of a Smith who came up with the idea for the great paper. I guess it was great paper drops, whatever it was. And the girls kept spinning through it. And it also went through a lighting change through the shadows and shadows. And then the lights came built and built and build and build up. I again, anything that Jerry did I thought was brilliant. So.

Speaker In your experience, was he decisive or indecisive as far as the process went on, and can you give me an example?

Speaker Was Jerry decisive or indecisive? I've never seen Jerry indecisive ever.

Speaker I've never I've never seen him. Not.

Speaker Be in front of the group of dancers of singers or the group of whoever is in front of them and never got the feeling that the man was not in control and didn't know what he was doing or didn't know what decision even though he made. I think Jerry has one of the great senses level of performance. He knows what plays and what doesn't play, and he gets right to it and makes a decision right away. I could give you maybe an example in the dance hall, there was a section in the dance hall that I thought was brilliant, brilliant choreography, and as a dancer dancing it. Wow, I was really going well. I was cooking and Jerry said, you know, I think we're going to take that section out and I would take the section and it's great. And he said, no, it doesn't work. And, you know, and I thought maybe I could sort of maybe talk him into it because it was so much fun to do.

Speaker I mean, it was an absolute boom.

Speaker No, there's no question it's out. And that was it. So that, you know, it was always decisive.

Speaker OK, typical Robyn's rehearsal. How would you describe it?

Speaker Very intense Robbins rehearsals are very intense, you start at nine or 10, whatever it was, and you finish at six and you dance the entire day or you do something in the entire day, there is nothing. But fortunately, the union has a five minute break. And then at that time they were five minute breaks. We got them and nobody ever went anywhere. In a five minute break, we just sat right down and stayed right there. We worked constantly. He was he was constant, constant. And he would be fixing things that you really didn't think needed to be fixed. But he knew they needed to be fixed. And after you did them, you knew they needed to be fixed. It was that simple. Cool. Especially was the example I know you're going to talk about. Cool, maybe later. But Cool was the one example where I would say he was. Absolutely relentless. If he was just just he he was really and not in a good mood because he wasn't getting what he wanted out of himself, it wasn't what we were doing. It was what he was doing. We had six different versions of Cool. So if you're going to talk about being indecisive, even that wasn't indecisive. He just didn't find what he wanted. So he made a decision to go on to something else, to go on to something else, going to something else he never was quite happy with. Cool, like I said, until I think did the movie. He was happy with it in the movie.

Speaker Do you know why wasn't having them on day?

Speaker You know, we we I don't know what Gerri was never happy with it, it just never got to that point of where he found those those tigers in a zoo.

Speaker You know, if you ever go to the zoo right before tigers are being fed that that movement that they're waiting for, he never got that angst where he got them with where if they weren't going to eat in a second, they were going to be eating the bars. And he never really got to that. And I that's my assumption with Cool in the film, I think was different because we had the low ceiling and we had more room to travel more. And I think all the things that aren't cool, that traveled more, made more sense to him and work to him because it really got to the end of what he wanted rather than cutting it short and having to go in another direction.

Speaker He could be very tough on people, and yet everybody wanted to work with him. How do you explain the.

Speaker Jerry was very tough on people, but. If you're a dancer and you trained your whole life to be a dancer, you want to work with the best, he's the best. So you subjected yourself maybe to a lot more. I was very fortunate. I think you subjected yourself to whatever it was because you wanted to work with the best. And he is absolutely the best.

Speaker Could you talk about Jerry and honestly talk about Jerry and honesty? He wanted it on stage and I've come to believe he was a pretty honest guy, for better or worse. And that didn't always make it easy for the other guy was whoever was with him. But honesty was a very big thing in Jerry's world.

Speaker Honesty and Gerri, yeah, I think go hand in hand. I've never known the man to be dishonest. I never heard him say anything that he didn't mean.

Speaker I'm talking about in his work.

Speaker Always work is completely honest. It's completely that's completely what he wanted. I think Jerry was satisfied in a lot of his work, and I think because he saw the honesty of what he tried to portray, I think he was very happy with his work. And I think that's a sign of honesty. I'm trying to think of a really good example where he was honest in his work. I'd have to think about that one.

Speaker What do you remember about West Side Story of.

Speaker Boy, you know, I actually remember quite a lot. I remember the I remember standing in the wings and going, wow, this is you know, we've been through it all. And this is really going to tell whether this musical is going to be accepted or not, because it was we all knew it was a controversial subject at the time. And I like I I want to put back in again Michael Callan's confidence. Everybody was a little edgy. Michael was strong. And I looked at that and I went, boy, that jury really did it. Really Jerry really gave him that leadership really took over and it really banded us together. And I felt opening night of West Side in New York was the best performance the Jets ever gave, because I felt there was there was such a mesh together. We really became that family. We really became inseparable. We really, really got what Jerry had been talking about all those months and all those weeks and all those days and all those seconds. And I remember. Saying sitting. In the drugstore scene. We the truck was in the back and America was going on in the front and America always stopped the show and I said, boy, if this does it tonight, we're really in. And boy, it did. And and cool even got got much more than we than it ever got because cool was such a heavy. No, I don't think it ever really had that the fun that America had that the audience could enjoy and be a part of and really. Wow. Yeah. We really like this cool was kind of like the audience sort of sitting at the edge of their seat waiting for somebody to shoot somebody. So I don't think Cool ever got there, but it was really good opening night that had the intensity, it had the angst that it had that feeling that Jerry wanted those tigers walking around waiting to be fed, ready to explode any minute.

Speaker So the little explosions and cool were were fabulous. The ballet really worked. The ballet for me was always like, let's get the crop, let's get the ballet over with, get the Krupke, the ballet really work.

Speaker The audience was really part of the ballet and they always were from there on in. I don't know what the reason was, but maybe it just suddenly cooked in. It gelled. Krupke worked because we didn't do it as a comedy. No, we did it very sarcastic. And I remember opening night, the curtain going down and usually and you know that there was always this nervous. Laugh in the house when the gunshot went off, everybody left, they would all go and then they would laugh at their own reaction, sort of nervous laugh, and then as the body was being carried off, the curtain would start to come down in the procession. And as the curtain got down about halfway, the applause always started. So we were all used to that. And as the curtain went down, there was nothing in all the way down to the bottom and there was nothing. And we all got on stage, you know, for our curtain calls. And I remember looking at David Winters and going, oh, what what happened? We lost them or something. And the curtain started to go back up again. Nothing. It was the curtain. It was just nothing. I mean, we were looking out there going, do we stay here? Do we run? What do we do? It just kept going up and going up and going up. And I would say half way to three quarters up. It was like an explosion in the house. I mean, that old expression with the applause rang through the house. It literally was happening. It was an explosion. I mean, the audience just went crazy. I mean, I think there was six curtain calls or something like on and we kind of felt good to that. Yes, rehearsal time for West Side, I believe West Side Story was the first musical to have an eight week rehearsal, I just came from a show Little Cabin, which was the first show to have a six week rehearsal. So I didn't know if I was fortunate or not. We had eight weeks and I think.

Speaker They were eight weeks that were very, very difficult, very, very difficult, Jerry worked as very hard. Jerry was a perfectionist and. I think he wanted us all to be perfectionists.

Speaker I also just say one thing I think Jerry truly loved doing West Side Story. I think this was one of his babies. I truly believe that.

Speaker It was a very difficult eight weeks. It was very, very hard.

Speaker I don't remember anyone ever saying, boy, that was fun. It wasn't fun until we did the gypsy run through, the gypsy run through was marvelous in all shows. I don't know if you know what. Of course you do. A gypsy gypsy run through is is when right before you leave town. No. No wardrobe, no scenery, no orchestra. You do a complete show top to bottom for friends in the business who usually come and see it. And and the reaction was astounding. I mean, I remember Lena Horne crying in the third row. I mean, absolutely in tears. And that's when we left town and we were thrilled to death about it. But but the rehearsal period, again, to get back to the six weeks difference between the six weeks and the eight weeks with the six week rehearsal period with the dancers, because, again, it was a show with dancers and singers and actors. So dancers had a break when the actors were working and the singers had a break when the dancers were working. So it was all that with West Side, there was no breaks. We did the singing, the dancing and as close to the acting as we could. So it was much more intense and Jerry was more intense and the the subject matter was more intense. So you you have to have that. And there was no other way around. And, you know, when people say, well, Jerry was really being obnoxious or he was being really hard on people, I think he had to be because it wasn't a show about, you know, peaches and cream. So it was a very intense eight weeks.

Speaker What was new about was. All right, what was new about?

Speaker Well, first of all, the subject I think the approach of the subject of West Side Story was something that had never been done before. It was sort of.

Speaker Why don't you start that, I want to go through some people, you have a watch, so you know what?

Speaker Yeah, let me take it off and throw it away like a. You need to take that. Yeah, Tracy, could you come in? Sorry about that.

Speaker I have to go back I'm going to ask you what was new about West Side Story straight talk about the subject.

Speaker Yes. What was new about West Side Story, I believe, is the subject matter. I think the I don't know of anybody who wanted to take the approach of doing two gangs, killing each other or eventually killing each other. It was a subject it wasn't a musical comedy. It was a musical drama. And I think that was a new approach. And I think also the new approach was there were so many dancers who. Were actors in the show. I don't think that that's ever happened before. West Side, where there was that much, where the dancers were, everybody depended on the dancers being actors as well as singers, as well as as well as dancers, as well as actors, as well as friends as well as mentors. And I and I think that approach made it difficult. But the most difficult thing was it was a controversial subject. I mean, I remember people walking out of the show. I remember, you know, the white haired ladies that would come on the bus tours on the Wednesday and Saturday matinees when the rumble started to break out. The first fight would break out after the prologue, you know, they'd get up and leave. They didn't want any part of it. And people would leave during the rumble because it was offensive. I don't think it was a subject people really wanted to face. So that was an uphill battle there, I think, for producers to say, look, what I'm putting on. I mean, is this a subject people really want to want to see? So.

Speaker Excuse me, Peter, are you hearing that cloth?

Speaker So, yeah, OK. OK, thank you. You know what I'm talking about?

Speaker I was like doing this scratching my head. Are you doing it? So it sounds weird.

Speaker I understand that there were some instances of actual gang members coming backstage during the run of the show and talking to you and asking you questions. Do you remember that? Can you talk about that?

Speaker Yeah, there were two instances of gangs coming to the show once I was invited and once was not invited. I think.

Speaker I can't recall exactly, but I think Jerry invited one gang to the show.

Speaker And if I can recall correctly the name of the lightnings, and this was a gang that had terrorized the subway. A couple of subway cars and it was in the newspapers and it was it was quite a big thing in New York at the time. And he brought this gang. Just to sort of filter in with us, to talk to us, give us a feeling of what these people were about, if we were having any any sort of identity problems about about gangs, how they worked and what they sounded like. And it was it was enlightening. I mean, to see the see the unity we saw the unity of this gang protecting each other, sort of somebody would say something and somebody would jump in. And it was a whole incident about the subway cars. And Jerry really made them, you know, elaborate on that. And we got the feeling about what they did with their fights. They talked about some of the fights that they had gotten in gang wars. It was very helpful, but it was in a very controlled situation. So it wasn't too bad. There was one time when a gang, not a gang, I would say three or four from some gang came to the stage door and were a little upset about what we were doing and heard about what we were doing. And and I was standing there talking and they said, one of the guys in your show is a gang member and we know him. And I think it was Jane Norman they were talking about. And I said that none of these guys are going to spend it all on life and ballet class. We didn't have time. That was really scary because we worried that they were going to be there at the end of the show. Fortunately, they weren't. Those were the two instances that I remember.

Speaker Having worked on Broadway with you've worked with other very accomplished choreographers, Gowa, Michael Kidd. What would you say, distinguished jury from those others?

Speaker What distinguished Jerry from the others?

Speaker Jerry Michael was very stylized, Gower was a great stager.

Speaker I think, Jerry.

Speaker You know, Bob Fosi, you would see steps from. The movie, my sister Eileen, that you saw in Pajama Game, I'm not saying that's I don't mean this in a bad way, but you saw that style. I don't think you ever saw the West Side Story steps anywhere else. They were strictly akin to West Side Story. He he did those steps because they fit what he wanted on that stage. Again, I go back to what I did in the prologue, which every step meant something. We own something. And I think that's the difference in Jerry. If you see fancy free, you won't see anything that you saw in fancy, free and interplay. Yet I think, again, Gowa was a brilliant stage. I mean, when I assisted Gowa, I was. Floored by his its focus, but you saw things that Gowa had done before and high button shoes, I mean, I saw inklings of those things, of the chase, you know, the chase through the doors and the shrine of ballet. And and, you know, like I said with Bobby, I saw a pajama game steps and epigenome again. Yeah. Yeah. Steamy steps. And Michael, you saw Michael kids, you know, kind of staccato kind of style, but stylized into Abner. Jerry, you only saw in West Side Story what you saw on West Side Story. There was nowhere else.

Speaker Um.

Speaker What do the experience of having been in the original cast of West Side Story mean to you?

Speaker Being in the original company was whether it was the original company or not, I don't know. I think it was the experience of working with Jerome Robbins that changed everything for me. It's like I said, when when I suddenly found out that steps meant more than just doing what the choreographer said I was supposed to do, go where he was supposed to go and smile through a number, there was a reason for me to be doing what I was doing. And I saw the organization, how Jerry organized his rehearsals. I became very aware of where he started a rehearsal, where we went to how he built a number, how he would start a number and how we would build it to get to where he wanted to get to. And a lot of times we didn't even only do it through steps, we did it through just walking. He made us emotionally get there. So when he taught us what he wanted us to do, step wise, it was incorporated to how we got there. I used all of that in my own. When I became a choreographer, I learned organization from him. I learned that how how to build a number. Never in his class. Mind you, I'm not saying that I never, never attain that kind of genius the jury had. But I learned an awful lot from that rehearsal of West Side and from working with Jerry. When Jerry came to London, I assisted him again on West Side Story. I also assisted him on the film of West Side. And Jerry's evolution in rehearsal is brilliant. The way he starts, the way he goes, the way he moves. And I'm not saying that none of these other choreographers are brilliant because Michael couldn't go with Bob Fosse. They are brilliant. But I learned from Jerry was the organization. And the reason how you build a number and where you get to that number and how you get to that number was very important. And I used it my whole career.

Speaker I ran in one of the Robbins' oh, yes. So tell me one. I mean, one of the Robbins biographies that you had a conversation at one point with Muriel Bentley, who replaced as Anita and who was an old friend of Jerry's, but he was at that time apparently not nice to her. Do you know what I'm talking about?

Speaker Yeah, I mean, I remember Muriel Bentley and I remember him really badgering her, yeah.

Speaker Do you remember what she said to you?

Speaker She told you? She told me that.

Speaker He was the first one, she was the first one that he went to bed with. Yes, the first affair they ever had. And why is he being so bitchy to me? I said, maybe that's why. Yes.

Speaker You were also in the London stage production, right? Yes. And so tell me only the reaction of the audience in England, in London compared to New York.

Speaker The the reaction to West Side in London was, I would say. A couple of notches up from the reaction from New York, even though I do remember opening night, almost the same thing happened with the curtain is opening night in New York with with the applause waiting and again, the explosion. But I also remember people running down the aisle screaming, cheater, cheat, cheat. It was it was amazing. I mean, we just stood there and looked. And I think it was even more surprising because Begi Bowman, who was the English producer, kept telling us that English audiences are much more polite than American audiences. They don't they don't stop a show. They applaud very nicely for the number and then they stop and then let you get on.

Speaker And every night when we would do previously, audiences were going crazy and he would say that's not common. When opening night comes, you're going to get the true opening night performance audience. And they're not they're going to be much less responsive, much more polite. And so we were I guess we were sort of expecting that. So when it was even more it was a phenomenal response. Phenomenal response.

Speaker You know, before we leave the stage show and go to the movie, is there anything else you would like to tell me about the stage production of West Side Story?

Speaker You know, only from I can tell you only from a personal standpoint, from it was the most incredible experience I have ever had as a dancer or as. And to this day, I never had an experience like that, a learning experience where I learned so much about what I was supposed to do. I learned more about my input. I wasn't just supposed to stand there and do the steps and go where I was supposed to be told and smile. And I learned that I was part of something and had to bring an identity to it and yet stay within the framework of what they were giving us. And I knew that I was working with somebody. Who I would probably never work with anybody like like him again.

Speaker Because having seen his past works.

Speaker And unfortunately, I was able to see his future works, by the way, Fiddler on the Roof, I think it's my favorite musical that he's ever done. Still, that was an experience he will never be repeated in my life. So I think it's very special to me.

Speaker OK, the movie. Now tell me how the rehearsal process for the movie differed from the show. How is it different than what you would?

Speaker The difference from the film. From the show was, I think, and again, I my opinion was a little bit more disorganized, it wasn't quite as organized because I think there was a fear of. How it would translate onto film. A gang of dancers dancing down the street and, you know, these rough guys, what is it going to look like actually on a street? And I think there was a lot of. A lot of nerves on end because of it. They didn't quite know how to do that, and I think that was holding up a lot of us. The other numbers, they weren't so, so worried about. You know, America was on a rooftop and you could do whatever you want with Stars and Stripes, whatever.

Speaker Krupke was in front of a drugstore. So that was a set. But to actually have a gang dancing down the street and singing and somebody singing, Maria coming out through a playground, I think there was some nerves about I think the Hollywood people had a little bit of nerves about it. And I, I think it was, in their minds, a very chancy.

Speaker Endeavor, and I think because of that, there was a little I don't want to say friction, but there might have been friction between Bob Weiss and Jerry about how to do it. And we did do some tests on the prologue. We tested downtown Los Angeles on the actual streets and then we tested in the studio with a completely black studio. I don't know what they were going to put behind us. They weren't happy with any of that. Jerry had choreographed the prologue. And then when we got to New York, when they finally decided to do it on the streets, he completely choreographed, not completely choreographed.

Speaker Three staged a lot of things because now you had all this length that we could we could dance down a whole block and not have to stop and have to get off a curb and stuff. So I think it was a little disorganized because Jerry didn't have full power.

Speaker So how did you meet?

Speaker So how did he deal with the fact that he was coping with this sort of inherently realistic medium and trying to meld this broad, trying to make a Broadway show into a movie? How did he cope with it, particularly with respect to the prologue?

Speaker Well, how did how did he make the change to get it on to film, is what you're saying I. I believe it was just typical Jerry Robbins thought process watching us on the street. I mean, he made more changes on the street as we were shooting than we ever did in the rehearsal. On stage, on stage. He knew exactly what he wanted to do, whether he thought about it the night before and came in and did it. I think on the day of rehearsal and shooting, there were changes made. There were constant changes made in direction, in formations. And I don't think he was quite sure until he saw it actually happening there. And I think he made some some changes there. And I think he. He battled it quite well, I thought, because, you know, I don't want to make any excuses because he certainly doesn't need any. But I think with the friction going on between Bob and Jerry and the film versus the stage and this is how we do it in film land and this is how I want to do it in stage. I think he had that battle going on and still had to battle those demons of how to get it, how to get that prolog to look like we were a gang on the street. And I think he accomplished it. I'm to answer your question, I don't really know how he did it. He was just relentless. Again, relentless.

Speaker Well, one of the things he did was. When you first find the gang, they're not actually dancing, right?

Speaker No more leaning against the fence.

Speaker Yeah, and then he started very slowly, yes, much more slowly in the film than he did in the.

Speaker And a little bit more symbolism with a little kid with the ball giving the ball back to the kid and going past the little child. I don't know if you remember there was sort of like a snail that was her territory that we walked around to show that that was her territory and she could have it, but the rest was ours. So, yes, we did start slower before we started. Actually, it was a little more basketball stuff at the beginning, you know.

Speaker So if you could elaborate, what you're saying is. The film didn't start and all of a sudden you were dancing the way it sort of happened on the stage, but he managed to use the kind of realistic approach that eased its way into the dance.

Speaker Yes, he did. Easiest way into the dancing. I mean, you're absolutely correct.

Speaker And we started much slower in the prologue on the stage.

Speaker Michael gets up, Riff gets up and sort of does a little bit of move and then a little bit of movement. And then all of a sudden we all get up and we start moving. And I think it was much slower in the film to that. And I think it did give him much more realistic approach that we were sort of this was our street. This was our street corner. We were the street corner royalty. We were down there. We were, you know, snapping our fingers, going down the street. And this all belonged to us. And we didn't have to get into so much dance immediately.

Speaker And before we get off the rehearsal completely, I think it was quite unusual for that amount of time, whatever it was, to be devoted to rehearsal.

Speaker For a film, yes, we yes, we rehearsed quite a long time, we rehearsed about.

Speaker I'd say at least four weeks before we did anything, even the tests on the street, and I think that was because there was the confusion about how to do it and what to do. And also we had a lot of.

Speaker I think Jerry was going through some stretching in his mind about how he could make it more realistic rather than I think he was trying to think more filmically than he was stage wise. And I think he had to shift gears and he was getting you know, I know he was getting fresh. So hurry up, you know, hurry up. You know, the film business is hurry up. We we don't want it good. We want it Thursday.

Speaker So, you know. I heard you say that the movement looked easy, but actually it was very difficult. Could you explain? Did you say that? Explain it and give me some examples.

Speaker A lot of Jeri's movement looks easy, but it's very controlled. You have to be in total control all the time. I mean, for instance, with this one step that we do, that's just a little bit just a little bit of this. But I have to do it at the edge of a curb. So it wasn't like standing just on a flat ground and holding my balance. I had to do it right at the edge of the curb. And it wasn't.

Speaker It wasn't easy because your momentum is taking you forward, so you want to come off the curb and you can't lean back because you don't want to fall backwards, then you lose that that control, you know.

Speaker So here's a lot of the stuff in the prologue. Looks a lot easier than it actually is.

Speaker I mean, some of the stuff is, you know, the Leapfrog stuff was easy, but the darn stuff, the control stuff was very, very difficult. Very hard.

Speaker And there's a lot of physicality. It was what, a lot of physicality, I mean.

Speaker Yes, yes. I mean, the difference between being an athlete and being a dancer in West Side is similar. I mean, you know, I felt like a basketball player when I was I mean, we did a couple of steps. We went dance down an entire block on tar in the street. And some of that some there was a couple of days when the temperature was up to 110, 102 degrees and that tar was getting soft and the sneakers weren't exactly moving in it. So we really had to be in control to move ourselves and and to do it on time. So it was very difficult. It was very hard. And there were places in the movie, I would say were much harder than than there were on stage.

Speaker And also, there were parts of the movie where you were literally throwing yourselves at each other, right?

Speaker Yeah, I think the rumbles were a little bit more violent. Yes. Uh.

Speaker Yeah, and I think.

Speaker I would say that the fight seemed to go on longer, so when they go on longer, you have to keep them going and again, you have to start somewhere. And Bill, I mean, I remember feeling like I was kicking Gastrocnemius for a for a year before they call it got, you know.

Speaker Now, to get you in shape for all of this or keep you in shape for all of this, I understand that even though you were on a movie location, Jerry had he had a set of. Yes. Tell me about that.

Speaker We had we had a a bar that was compulsory, a ballet bar every morning before we started the rehearsal, before the shoot. And he did that specifically to make sure that everybody stayed in shape.

Speaker And you had to be because we again, we were not dancing on a floor. On the stage you're dancing on and cement that has no give and you're jumping up and down. Your muscles are going to hurt. I mean, there was a lot of shin splints. There was a lot of wrapped knees. There were a lot of lower back bruises.

Speaker Not not because the dancing was that much more difficult to do, but it was the street itself. There was no give. It's not like dancing in a in a ballet school on a nice floor. You know, it's made for.

Speaker You said in one of the West Side Story documentaries, I'm quoting you, he got in people's faces who he wanted to mold.

Speaker Who he wanted to mold faces, who he wanted to. Yes, very much so.

Speaker Could you repeat that and tell me what you meant?

Speaker Yeah, Jerry got into the faces of people that he felt were not where he wanted them to be, where he wanted them to get to before they could take over their own self. He got into actions, faced quite a lot. Michael Callen, he certainly battered and bruised Michael quite a lot. Larry Kert he really got into Larry Kert, especially in the Rumble. He really worked hard with Larry. You know, I mean, let's face it, we were dancers, singers, we weren't really involved in a lot of street fighting and a lot of gang fighting. So it was it was it was new to us. And where Jerry learned that, I don't know that, to be honest with you, but he got us.

Speaker And it wasn't only you know, it was he was working on Larry and he was getting in Larry's face to get what he wanted. And he really, really was against relentless with Larry. But we were standing around watching, taking this all in. So not only was he giving it to Larry at that time, it was really for all of us. And we all took we all took a lot of that. And we we began to understood him more and more as as the rehearsal progressed. And I think we all got better because he beat up Larry quite a lot and he beat up Nicki quite a lot. We learned a lot from that. We learned what we had to do from that.

Speaker In one of the other documentaries on West Side Story, you said, working with Jerry Robbins, you're a slave. Could you repeat that? Tell me what you meant. Jerry Robbins, repeat that again, you said working with Jerry Robbins, you're a slave.

Speaker Yeah, you're his. When you walk in that door at nine o'clock in the morning, you're his. He's going to make you do what he wants you to do.

Speaker And that starts at 9:00. And that's until you finish at 6:00. You are his slave. That's it. You do what he does. He is the commander. He is the president. He is the dictator. He is God. And he was God to a lot of us. So, yeah. You are his slave. Exactly.

Speaker How involved was he in how the picture was shot? Can you explain that to me?

Speaker How involved was Jerry in the way the picture was shot? I think I can answer that by saying the best things in the film were what he was involved in and after he left. I think there was a big fall off. I think the things that he were involved in, like America, I thought America was brilliant, different than it was on stage, but brilliant. I thought cool was the best it ever was. And I think that Jerry, when his own way, I mean, he had those battles being fought, but he did take his time. He knew how much time he needed, which was whatever time he needed. And he worked with us relentlessly on it. I mean, cool was much different than it was on stage.

Speaker And I think even playing a different role.

Speaker I felt that I was better and cool in the movie than I was on stage.

Speaker And I think because Gerri knew it better, probably knew what he wanted better at that point, but also we had a great set. The set was perfect. And I think that was part of the conversation with the set design and Jerry about what Jerry wanted, how he saw it.

Speaker Tell me why. Because that was.

Speaker What the court said was, first of all, we had more length, we had more room to really get that angst out and we had more props to use. We had cars to bang on. We had lights to turn on. We had the ceiling was really low. So when we got into that sort of fetal position before we would trying to hold it in, you really felt really down. And then when you broke out with the with the low ceiling, you really felt like people were flying. So I think that really the dynamics of the number shown better in the film.

Speaker And in terms of how the prologue was shot, I understand you were very involved in that.

Speaker Do you remember specifically anything about that, how a jury was very involved and how it was shot? Jerry was very involved in how everything was shot. I couldn't be more specific than that about anything that was shot. Jerry was very worked very closely with the cameraman, Danny Faffed, who was wonderful.

Speaker And I know that Danny gave Jerry suggestions about camera angles, which Jerry accepted, because if it was something better, Jerry took it. He wasn't fool enough to let his ego get in the way. But Jerry knew, you know, Jerry has a vision.

Speaker He always has a vision of how he sees something and that's what he goes for.

Speaker There may be times when he couldn't exactly explain what it was exactly he was going for. So we had to rehearse it and do it and he had to keep showing it to Danny FAPE. So then he would go, Oh, now I know what you mean. That would be better if we did it this way. And it was many times, then he would say to Jerry, the cameras should be here. And Jerry would say, let me look at it. And he would look at it and he would say yes. And there were times when he would say no. The camera, I think, needs to be back here specifically when the Jets and the Sharks did that. That's step that's used, that picture that's used in the three sharks. I mean, getting the they dug a hole in the ground and that was Danny FIPS idea. So, you know, Jerry was wasn't fool enough to say no.

Speaker You know, my dad still says directed by, you know, so he was very involved. And I think he made a lot of the decisions. I think if he would have said no to the hole in the ground, it would have been no.

Speaker OK, go back a bit. We were talking about Jerry's involvement in.

Speaker The shooting of the prologue.

Speaker I'm assuming that everything that came when we were talking about cool, Peter, that's OK. Right.

Speaker That's critical.

Speaker Yeah, it was yeah, it was the last. It was about a minute or so.

Speaker OK, so let's just talk again about his involvement in the shooting of the prologue and what you recall about that. You talked about his working with Danny FAPE and digging a hole in the ground and Shawn's picture. That was all great if you can work your way back there.

Speaker Gerry's involvement in the prologue was like jurys, involvement in everything, Terrys involved in everything. Gerry makes the decisions. Gerry worked very Gerry would see he had to see what we were doing in this set in the area we were doing it and to make sure that it worked and that he had to have the correct camera angle the way his vision was. So he would talk with Danny Farber was the cameraman. And Danny did give him give him ideas where the camera would be better. This way to see that. And Gerry would agree with him or Gerry would disagree with him. Most of the time he agreed with Danny, for instance, the sharks, one big moment when the first three sharks do their leg in the air, they dug a hole to shoot the shot. So it was really low and the sharks were really high. Symbolically, the sharks were now becoming part of the city. That was the symbolism of the shot. And Gerry wanted the angle low. So Danny suggested, why don't we dig a hole and get the camera all the way down? And Gerry loved it, thought it was great. So like I said, Gerry never would turn down an idea that he thought would enhance what his vision was. But as far as something that he didn't, it was an absolute No.

Speaker Where was the prologue physically shot and how long did it take approximately?

Speaker We shot the prologue in New York City, I would say it was six weeks we were supposed to go to New York for two weeks and shoot it. It took six weeks to shoot, at least six weeks to shoot it. And most of the prologue was shot where now stands, Lincoln Center, most of it.

Speaker I'm going to ask you to just go back to your friend, please. I'm going to just ask you to go back and say that again.

Speaker Where the prologue was shot, the prologue was shot what is now Lincoln Center. We danced in the rubbles of Lincoln Center. So our spirits are there helping everybody in the operas, in the ballets. And it's hard to believe, but it's true.

Speaker Why did it take so long?

Speaker Well, again, not to be repetitious, but I think there was a lot of bantering back and forth about how to do it and make sure it's real, and I think there were disagreements between Robert Weiss and Jerry about how to do it. And I think Jerry was very sure about how he wanted to do it. And I think Rob Robert was looking more filmically at it and Jerry was looking more at just visually of what he wanted to see rather than what would be on the film.

Speaker Robert Weiss is a great was was a great technician, but I don't know whether he had the feel that Jerry Jerry needed to get the feel of what he was looking at for it to be the right tone for him, for where we were supposed to be at that moment dramatically. And I don't think Bob was looking at that. I think he was just looking at camera angles. So I think there was a lot of disagreement. And that was the first time they really had gotten together to work filmically. I mean, they had been talking in preproduction. But I think when you're finally on the set and you're working it out, it's a little bit different. I think the discussions change. So I think there was more disagreement and I think that helped.

Speaker And to be honest, Jerry probably did take too long. But that's Jerry's method. He keeps going until he gets what he wants.

Speaker And, Tony, a little more about what you remember about the actual shooting you were talking before about how you were dancing down whole streets and how did that work? I mean. Tell me what you remember about.

Speaker I remember what I remember about working on the film of West Side was that. The prologue was very difficult to do, it was very hard, first of all, it was very hot. We we really worked very hard. I mean, we were doing all the dancing. I mean, there was no doubles. There was no stunt doubles. We would we did everything. And it was it was very difficult to do. And Jerry was battling, again, a lot of the elements with with Wise and I think with the producers. And that made it more difficult to do. I do remember having fun doing it. I mean, dancing down a whole street and was it was was exhilarating, actually, to think that we could make it. First of all, I mean, I didn't think we were going to make it from the top one street all the way. I think it was 61 First Street, all the way down 61 Street. It was very difficult. It was not it was not an easy shoot. I would say it was it was a difficult shoot because there was so much internal things going on as well as external.

Speaker OK, so could you tell us how long did it take to shoot?

Speaker Cause I would say somewhere in the area of six weeks it took to complete cool.

Speaker We did have one stoppage on cool, I think Elliot Feld ended up with mononucleosis or something, and I believe we stopped shooting for about a week on Cool. They went to something else and then we went back and finish it off. But approximately six weeks.

Speaker Tell me about the rumble, because the rumble was. It was shot two counts, wasn't it? Tell me how that worked.

Speaker No, everything was counts. Yes, everything was on counts. I mean, the actual fighting and the knife fight. Yes. And Q's musical cues, there was certain physical moves that would cue the music, taking the knife out the turn, Tony's turn to run and. Excuse me.

Speaker Bernardo's turned to run into Tony's knife, was set up on musical cues, but it was all done to count. Yeah.

Speaker Um.

Speaker I don't know if you remember this, but I understand that Jerry had certain methods that he would employ with the gangs to kind of keep them on edge while they were shooting.

Speaker Do you remember that record with you, Jerry, to keep the gangs always in character? I would say there were times when he if he felt that we were getting a little loose, he would sort of attack somebody. He would pick somebody out and attack them. And you sort of shook you back into what you what you were going to do. He always had his methods to get us back. He was he was. Jerry never let us get far off the rope. He always controlled us. You know, again, I get the picture of Jerry, the puppeteer, holding everybody on these strings and moving people around, which is exactly what West Side was to me. It was Jerry Robbins, the great puppeteer, moving people around, you know.

Speaker Did he ever. At the moment that you're about to roll tape, change, change your direction, like say, OK, just do it to the left instead of the right.

Speaker Not that I can recall. No, no, no, no, he was never that indecisive.

Speaker That wouldn't have been and decided he would never he would never make a change like that when he had what he wanted. He never changed.

Speaker When did you ever seem pleased with the dancer's work, and if you did, how did he say that again? Did he ever seem pleased with the dancer's work on one side and.

Speaker I would say Jerry was rarely pleased. And I don't think it was the jury wasn't pleased with the dancers, I think he was pleased that he felt he could have done it better to get it to the point that he really wanted to. I thought a lot of times when Jerry would attack somebody, he was really attacking himself because he was angry he didn't get to where he wanted to get to. When Jerry smiled, he sort of looked like Santa Claus, and when he smiled, everybody smiled because you went, wow, he he did like heaven and he never really verbally would say that was really good. That was great. You know, during the movie, he'd say, OK, that's a take. We'll do the next. If he said it was a take, you know, it was good and he would never let us go on. I mean, we did a lot of takes on things, so. No jury would really show that I never seen a lot of that.

Speaker No. It's very rare to have two directors on a picture. What from having been on the set, what's your understanding of what Jerry did and what Bob?

Speaker You know, it's hard to it's hard to define that what Bob did and what Jerry did. Jerry was a great visual master. Rob, it was an incredible technician with a camera. And I think that Robert had his own vision of when he saw us dancing down the street, but Jerry had his vision of what it should be, and I think that they had disagreements on that. And fortunately, Danny FAPE was the great mediator, the cameraman, who I think 90 percent of the time sided with Jerry because of what Jerry's vision was and what he wanted to portray. It was difficult. We did feel some tension on the set between the two of them and during the dance numbers, it was really Jerry. Jerry was supposed to take care of the dance numbers and Mr. Wise was supposed to take care of the scenes. But, you know, the scenes in the dance sort of blend into one another in West Side. And so it got a little hazy when Jerry was supposed to not say something and Robert wasn't supposed to say. And Jerry was never shy about not wanting to say what he wanted to say. But I think the best work on the film was when Jerry was there.

Speaker OK, we're going to talk about that more in a second. You just cut for a minute, if you would.

Speaker That was that was in reference to a lot of things that were said about most of them were said after Gerry's passing, you know, how much of West Side was Jerry's idea, how much he controlled, what happened during the rehearsal time of West Side and how much was actually Jerry's contribution to West Side? And that was pretty much my answer to all of that malarkey.

Speaker Is that I think I said it to you before and in the sense that anybody can have a great idea. It's it's bringing that idea to fruition and being alive. And I think that's what Jerry was capable of doing. There wasn't anybody else. In that creative staff who could have done what Jerry did. No, no way. Mean there's just no way. I mean, I don't care who does a version of West Side Story today. They can do it the way they want, and it's never going to be as good as ever. And I'll go on record as saying that. So I think that that's what that was in reference to.

Speaker So.

Speaker If I were to ask you, for example.

Speaker West Side was obviously a collaboration. There were four great minds, yes, four great talents that made this peace come to fruition on the stage.

Speaker But you can only have one captain of the ship. Who was it? And can you explain how that worked?

Speaker There were some great minds involved in West Side Story, some great talents.

Speaker There's no question about it, but.

Speaker Without Jerry Robbins, none of those pieces would have ever fit together. Author Lawrence is a sensational writer. Leonard Bernstein is an incredible musician, composer. Stephen Sondheim is probably the most brilliant lyricist I've ever heard in my life. Hal Prince and Bobby Griffith were great producers.

Speaker Without Jerry Robbins.

Speaker Jerry Robbins was the gun.

Speaker He was the hammer to the gun. He was the bullet in the gun. He was the bullet that came out of the gun.

Speaker And everybody else was sort of smoke and noise that came out of the gun, but Jerry was the man that controlled it. Jerry was the perfectionist. Jerry was the man with the vision. And I think when Jerry needed help and needed assistance, he had four great minds to go to that he used to bounce ideas off of. But it was Jerry's way and only Jerry's way. That's how West Side Story was. That's what it is today.

Speaker Tell me about the relationship between Gerry and Natalie Wood. What did you observe about that?

Speaker The relationship between Gerry and Natalie was wonderful. They were they truly loved each other. They truly did.

Speaker They got along.

Speaker She was very unhappy when Gerry left, no question about it. And one of the assistants went with Jerry Howard, who was specifically assigned to work with Natalie, and I was left that task to work with Natalie. So I got very close with Natalie. And and through that relationship, I knew how much she admired Jerry Robbins and how much she missed him. And she spoke to Jerry quite a lot while he was in New York. So that was a very close relationship.

Speaker Tell me how you found out that Jerry wasn't going to be on the picture.

Speaker You know, I still to this day, the way I found out Jerry was gone was a little bit crude, a little bit rude.

Speaker A little cold, we had finished cool, I believe, and we started to rehearse something else. And we were told to go to the I think it was there was a gym on the. In the studio complex we were shooting at and we all went to the gym and and Robert Weiss told us that Jerry Robbins was leaving the movie and basically that he was fired and he was let go because. It was taking too long to do, is taking too long to get to.

Speaker They had a budget that they had to adhere to and they were doing it so they could complete the film.

Speaker And I didn't find anyone who said we were sorry to see him go, we know this is going to hurt the film and I guess that maybe that was their positive approach, that everything would turn out well, but. I was devastated. There were a lot of people devastated at that point, none of us could leave the film because we had filmed 90 percent of it, 80 percent of it. So I couldn't walk out on it. And Jerry didn't want us to anyway. Like I said, he wanted me to stay and work with Natalie, so he wanted to make sure that it went on.

Speaker I thought it was kind of.

Speaker It was a rotten way to find out. I thought that could have been a better way to do it. And with a little bit more. Emotion about the fact that he was a man that was with us for 80 percent of this film and pretty much. West Side Story is his baby, so I thought the separation was kind of awful.

Speaker OK, excuse me, is there someone moving back here? Do you hear that, Peter? Um.

Speaker What most of the musical numbers were done, I think, and they were all rehearsed, right, but you worked, I think, on a number that had that was rehearsed but not shy when Jerry was five or.

Speaker Oh, yes, yes. We we barely rehearsed the dance hall, and that was without any extra we hired extra dancers because we needed a bigger dance hall, so we had new dancers coming in and they had to be staged in the back. And I restaged a little bit of Rust Hamlin's duet with Graziella and restaged a couple of little things that just needed to be done because of the physicality. I mean, basically was all Jerry's Jerry steps, but without the puppeteer up there keeping it all together, getting us to where we were supposed to be, I don't think the dance hall really made it. I just don't think it made it, especially the scene with Natalie and Richard. The love scene I I think needed a lot of help and I don't think they got it. And I think that the. It hurt them, I think it hurt the film personally.

Speaker Uh, can you be more specific about. Perhaps the flatness of the scene as opposed to the dynamics of cool or the prologue for America really was there for the dynamics which we had in cool and dynamics, which we had in the prologue in which we had and Krupke and in America.

Speaker Jerry was there to do this. Jerry was there to direct this, to get them where he wanted to get them. Like I said, Jerry has a sense, a level of performance that no one else I have ever worked with has. He knows what plays. He knows what's not working. He knows what needs to be done. And he gets to it. And he and sometimes he gets to it in a way where he where he gets in your face. And sometimes he didn't have to whatever whatever the approach was, he got it. In the dance hall, there was nobody there to do that. There was nobody there to give Natalie. Natalie not as much as Richard. I thought Richard needed more help and not because I don't think Richard was a good actor. I thought Richard does some wonderful films. I just think he needed help in that role. I don't think he was really cast that well to begin with in that role.

Speaker There's a lot of disagreements about all those things. But I think that if Jerry were there, the dynamics that he gave to that, nobody knows West Side Story like Jerry Robbins. And I think Jerry would have gotten it to a point. Where he wanted it and I think where he wanted it, it would have worked.

Speaker I don't think we ever got there in addition to performance quality. Now, let's talk about how it might have been different or what was lacking in the shooting of that scene, because it wasn't.

Speaker Again, the dynamics of the dance hall, it's a visual thing. I mean, on stage, you put the focus where you want the audience to look in a film. The camera is where you want the audience to look. And I think the camera was not in the right place. It was not in the right places, let me put it that way. And I think a lot of that was because.

Speaker It's not a knock against Robert Wise, he's not a dancer, he's not a choreographer. I don't think he knows. That's why Bob Fosse was so good with musicals. That's why Gene Kelly was so good in musicals. They know what they need to see visually, why they create that kind of movement. And I think that was lost. I think what we got was film making.

Speaker We didn't get the filmmaking that was necessary for West Side in that scene.

Speaker What was it about the scene that.

Speaker That made it different than the successes of the other scenes the jury was there for, what I'm trying to get to is. There is a witness in that scene that is missing.

Speaker You know what I'm saying? Yes. West Side Story is a contact show, people attacking each other, people wanting to get to each other, the dance hall or two people who were so in love, they can't touch each other. That's a different dynamic to begin with when two people are so in love that they can't touch. They could barely touch their hands. They could get together. They could feel their bodies together. You didn't get a feeling of those bodies wanting to fuse together. You just got them standing up and you got them dancing. You didn't get the feeling if you watched the couples in the back and the dance hall, you'll see more of what Jerry Robbins wanted because the dancers were able to get that feeling of becoming one without touching each other. And that dynamic is very important in a show that has these games going like this. And then you suddenly get these two people who can't even get near each other, who want to get towards each other. And that's a big part of what made that work on stage. Didn't work in the film.

Speaker The thing I find in the dance hall, tell me if you agree and if you do, maybe talk about it, is that. The other, the cool and the prologue particularly, you can see that every shot. Was very carefully thought.

Speaker Every shot has a purpose, every shot is a motivation and has a power to it. Suddenly the dance hall, you've got a big wide shot and two groups going in and out.

Speaker You know what I'm saying? Exactly what you got was an.

Speaker You got good filmmaking. I mean, the shots were nice.

Speaker But they were just shots, it was just shooting like a summer dance in the middle of a movie somewhere, it every piece in West Side has a purpose and we miss that in the dance hall. We didn't get the purpose. We didn't get the strength of the gangs from the angles like you did in the prologue specifically was shot certain ways to get the strength of them or the weaknesses of them. And in the dance hall, you just got lovely masters, nice close ups, but you didn't get the meaning of what was going on and that visually.

Speaker Is what Jerry was not there for, I couldn't do it. I mean, it wasn't my job. My job was just to teach the dancers that the new dancers the steps. And I had to change a little bit for us because he couldn't he just couldn't do what Mickey could do. And it was a different thing. So I went to his strengths by giving him some tumbling, which Jerry didn't mind, by the way. He thought that was fine. But the dance hall really didn't work because it didn't have the focus.

Speaker Tell me what musical numbers, if you could make a sentence out of this, what musical numbers were for changing so. Tony, could you would you mind sitting string theory? Sure. What musical numbers were not shocked when Jerry was fired, if you could include the home, what numbers, what numbers were not shot when Jerry was fired?

Speaker I believe it was just the dance Danzel.

Speaker Nerem.

Speaker So let me know, I believe it was just the dance hall was the only thing you say another way, if you could start with the phrase when Jerry was fired, the whatever was removed.

Speaker When Jerry was fired from the film. The prologue was shot, let's say the really important numbers were shot in the dance hall was the only thing that was left. To be shot, it was barely rehearsed, it was barely touched because it wasn't. Something that Gerry's priorities were at the time, he the I know he worked very hard with Natalee, stands on the roof, was very important to him because that was something that wasn't in the in the show that was different. I know he worked very, very hard and I feel pretty, which is probably one of the most difficult numbers to stage, whether it's stage, movie, whatever. It's a very difficult number to stage. So the dance hall, I believe, and I'm well, I believe I'm positive it was the only.

Speaker Untouched, no.

Speaker Um.

Speaker Were you, uh, at the. I think given the Oscars.

Speaker Um, when you think back on all your experiences with Jerry, what's at the forefront of your mind?

Speaker Oh, wow, he made me feel like I was the greatest dancer in the world.

Speaker He was just he really started my growth in my life.

Speaker And I'll never, you know, never forget that he taught me how to do so many things. We had great conversations about dance and about dancers and about a lot of the ballets that he did, a lot of the ballets that he performed.

Speaker He gave me a great sense of theatricality. And a great sense of realism.

Speaker I think, if I'm not mistaken, that you had the opportunity to see Ballies, USA, when you were in Europe. Yes, yes. Tell me about that. What was your impression of the company?

Speaker I thought Ballies, USA, was incredible. I actually I saw Ballies, USA in their first. Sort of gypsy run through before they left town in New York, and I was astounded. I was astounded. I never thought that I know. I never thought of Jerome Robbins as a persay jazz choreographer. And when you see jazz export, New York jazz export, I mean, it's a brilliant composition. It's brilliant. I mean, you look at it just from the choreographic standpoint, the way the number starts, it goes to the middle and it goes through its end and it goes through it's built. It's brilliant. It's just genius. And you see all the other styles of ballets that he did through the years, like the concert, which is a hilarious ballet. And and he did moves a cappella, which astounded me how that many dancers on stage could be together and an afternoon of a fawn, which he redid just I mean, and you see all the different styles. You see that Jerome Robbins just didn't use the same steps. You never saw the same step. Everything was different. You never saw that. You know, you'd look at the screen and say, oh, that's Peter Gennaro or that's Tony Shanly or that's Tom Hanson. You would look at and go, wow, that's brilliant. Could only be Cherry Rock, you know. So there was a great difference. And Ballets USA, I thought was just phenomenal.

Speaker What was the response to a company?

Speaker In Europe, the response of the company, you know, I really couldn't answer that question, honestly, I don't know. I know that in Italy, I saw the company in Italy, in Spoleto. The audience seemed to be very responsive at that time.

Speaker Is there anything about West Side Story that you would like to tell me that I haven't asked?

Speaker You know, I I think it would be a great mistake. To redo West Side Story, I think. It's just my opinion, of course, first of all, to update West Side Story, you'd have to use nuclear bombs because kids don't use knives and there's lines in lines like bottles, knives and guns. And I mean and the dramatic point of that one gunshot, you know, Chino has a gun. The fear and the scare and the one gunshot going off where the audience jumps out of their seats, you have to use a dirty bomb. I mean, I don't know how you would upgrade. I mean, I think you could maybe author could upgrade the book, maybe crackerjack audio recording it. I don't know. Gangs are different today. They are really violently different. I don't know how you would incorporate that into today. And I think West Side needs to be as it is. If it's stated, so be it. It was a work of art and I think it should be left alone. I don't think you would take the Mona Lisa and and repaint it.

Speaker Is there anything about Jerry that I have an.

Speaker Motional.

Speaker Hmm. He was a genius and he was so.

Speaker I think he was one of the nicest man I've ever met in my life. That's about it. Only one. In a way, that's probably. Uh. He was he was at all.

Speaker It's at.

Tony Mordente
Interview Date:
American Archive of Public Broadcasting GUID:
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"Tony Mordente, Jerome Robbins: Something to Dance About." American Masters Digital Archive (WNET). 19 Sep. 2007,
(2007, September 19). Tony Mordente, Jerome Robbins: Something to Dance About. [Video]. American Masters Digital Archive (WNET).
"Tony Mordente, Jerome Robbins: Something to Dance About." American Masters Digital Archive (WNET). September 19, 2007. Accessed January 25, 2022