Transcript:

Speaker I would actually really like to start with the genesis of West Side Story, how what how it was supposed to be, how you got involved.

Speaker Have you talked to Arthur? Yes. OK. OK. OK, so I just told you. OK, yeah. It's nice to have just one voice.

Speaker Well the general you know, I came in after it had been started. So when I, when I came in on it, let's say I'll tell you how I got involved in the course of auditioning as a fledgling songwriter around town, I came to the attention of two producers named Marty Gable and Henry Margolese, and they were going to do a musical of serenade. And Arthur Laurents was to write the book. And Lenny and Jerry were to be involved and they had dropped out. So they were looking for a songwriter. So I auditioned them. The project never came to fruition because Warner Brothers decided to do the movie. And I ran into Arthur about six months later. Actually, I ran it once before that, a dinner party. But essentially it all happened on the opening night of a play called Island of Goetze, Isle of Goats and the opening night party. I was I was not at the play, but I was invited to a party by Burt Shuvalov. And so I was waiting for Burt and the guests were starting to arrive. And I had nobody talked to because I didn't know anybody who was rather Highton party at Ruth Ford and Zachary Scott. And Arthur was standing there and we sat and we reacquainted ourselves. And I asked him what he was doing and he said he was about to begin the musical Romeo and Juliet with Leonard Bernstein and Jerome Robbins. And I said, and who's who's doing the lyrics? And he literally smote his forehead like that and said, Gee, I never thought of you. We've been looking for a lyric writer because that in and off look, it seems as if they can't get out of a Hollywood contract that they have and therefore they can't do it and we need somebody. So why don't you go up and play your things for Leonard Bernstein tomorrow? And so I did. And and Lenny said I will know within a week's time whether Betty Anne and enough can do this or not. I'll let you know. And I was of I felt mixed about it. I was flattered and delighted. And I really did it because I wanted to meet Leonard Bernstein. I thought it'd be interesting. I actually had met him once before and.

Speaker I was I was reluctant just to lyrics because I really wanted to compose and Oscar Hammerstein was my mentor, advised me to take the job if I got it, because he thought it would be a good experience for me to be involved with people of this kind of professionality and talent. And so I said yes. And when I said yes, Lenny wanted to write lyrics to and he started writing lyrics with writing lyrics separately, but together. And then over a period of time, the lyrics, with maybe the exception of one or two lines, were all mine. So I ended up just doing the lyric myself. And so that's how it started. When I met with Arthur officially the first day of officially going to work, Arthur had an outline of the piece on that very closely typed pages. And so I came in after Arthur had started to outline the plot, but before any actual writing it had been done and Lenny had written actually a tune which became cool. And a lot a lot of the music in West Side Story was stuff that had been thrown out of candy, which he had written earlier. And in fact, then when he got back to work on Candide, which happened while we were writing West Side Story, some of the West Side Story stuff got into Canada. So the music went back and forth. Be specific. Sure. Or Oh, Happy Way was originally part of that was a duet for Tony and Maria in the bridal shop. One hand, one heart was written for four candied.

Speaker We think some other things, um.

Speaker Krupke, the two of Krupke, had been written for candid. Part of it, anyway, I have to think I'm a little slow today. Let me just try to think of the others. There are about four examples, five examples. What was your first meeting like? What did you do? I don't remember.

Speaker My first meeting really was with Arthur and talking about how do you utilize the songs? And Lenny and I generally tended to work. Lenny like to work together in in this room in his apartment, which was the only dark room it would look down on an air shaft. And he had deliberately chosen that because he didn't want visual distractions or oral ones. And so it's quite a gloomy room and exactly right for work. But he liked to sit and ponder with somebody in the room. I didn't like to do that. I want to go home and write. So we worked, I'd say, two days a week and in the in the studio and a lot on the phone from my apartment to his. How do you do that?

Speaker What's the process of that process?

Speaker Well, it's it's difficult to describe because we would I would discuss with Arthur a great length what the song should be about and then get together with Lenny and maybe give him some lines or we would discuss the song and he would come up with a musical idea.

Speaker There's one example only in the show of a lyric that I just wrote called and he said it called, which is a Boy Like That. And one example where I got the music, which was Krupke and I just said music, but otherwise it was back and forth and a lot of discussions. Actually, one of the things we did was it was an anagram player and I was an anagram player and I had never played Cut-throat Anagrams, which is a very aggressive form of the game and a much, much better one than the polite version. And I got it in playing anagrams with him and they helped relieve any tensions that would come the collaboration.

Speaker Also, I introduced him to the crossword puzzle in The Listener, which is a BBC, was a BBC publication, and they're very tricky British puzzles. And so that would usually arrive on Thursday. So we would meet on Thursday and spend the first couple of hours doing the puzzle together and then we would get to work. But generally it was a matter of if we were together in the room, I would I would perhaps ad lib some lines or ideas or he would ad lib something, the piano. But generally, once we got the notion, we'd go off and develop it separately and then come back separately and then check on the phone each other to be sure that the form and the rhythms were what we had. And if he'd had his way, we would have always worked in the room together. And if I'd had my way, we'd always work separately.

Speaker So I just thought he left me to to be with people he love to communicate. Mm hmm. Mm hmm. I've said this in a couple of interviews, but I still can't get over it. He once said that if he couldn't communicate or share an experience, basically that happened for him since it didn't mean anything. I said, that's interesting.

Speaker I didn't know that. Well, that explains this because I figured he wanted company in terms of the collaboration. But, you know, I first of all, since I'm a piano player myself, if I'm writing a lyric, even when I was writing Lenny, I would occasionally go to the piano. And even if I dummying a tune, even if it wasn't his tune, I would go. But I couldn't do that in a room with him. And often, you know, if he he would sometimes tramps out to think of music. And he didn't always write at the piano. He wrote a lot of the piano, but he would also play it in his head. And so we would sit there in silence while he played it in his head, so to speak. And I would scribble it on the on the on the pad. But it was too frustrating. It was too frustrating for me to not be able to either go to the piano or wander or, you know, do something.

Speaker I wanted to do with that because, I mean, you are obviously also a great composer. Was that difficult? I mean, were there times when you would give him a lyric and he would write something and that you have heard it completely differently?

Speaker No, not often.

Speaker Although in the case of a boy like that, when he came up with that vamp, I must say I was surprised that was not what I what I was expecting. You know, occasionally I would criticize, so to speak. I make suggestions to music. I'd say, you know, doing things a little too much B flat going on there, Kawi, maybe Arche the phrase up on this word or something like that. But no, no. It's funny, my memory is of all those days of writing is blurry and. The impression I have is that we just, I would say a line and he would go and play something and then we would talk about the line and we talk about the way the music was going. It seemed to grow organically by coming together. And when we had enough material, which usually we would have at the end of the day, then I could go home and develop and he could go the piano and develop. And then we'd get back together a couple of days later and he would have developed the tune and I would have developed the lyric and but we only sort of knew what we were going.

Speaker It was very easy collaboration, very easy to write an inch. Really, really make hard to do. OK, thank you. Because I had to pull up a chair.

Speaker I'd read from all this.

Speaker There were some examples you gave like that. Very interesting of where the lyric really demanded a certain change in the composition.

Speaker Well, one of them, one of with one hand, one heart, you know, was the tune from Candied had dotted half notes.

Speaker And so it's dum dum dum dum dum dum dum.

Speaker And I said, I need some quarter notes and I can't write a one, you know, only words of one syllable, which you have to do. You can't you can't go. Suzanne Lacy, you got got to be, you know, one hand, one heart.

Speaker And so he gave me some quarter notes. So it was Magowan. And that was one one instance where the money quite often wrote music that was very hard to set lyrically somewhere. As an example, that's a tune he had in his trunk when you tried apparently to shove that into every show from the town on and got no takers. But I was I was I was the new kid on the block, so I had to set it. And Jerry wanted his ballet explained. And I thought there was no reason whatsoever to explain this ballet. But Jerry wanted to explain. So we came up with this notion of having this offstage voice. I actually was in the pit and Lenny had this tune.

Speaker And when you think about dum dum dum da dum, it's very hard to set because you have to use one syllable words.

Speaker And I hated the fact that I couldn't couldn't solve. There's a place for it. Burkhoff used to refer to as the US song. There's a place where it's exactly where you don't put the emphasis is on the on the on the least on the least important word in the sentence. You don't put that on the high note. But I couldn't there was nothing I could do. The tune was written and come to think that that's the other tune.

Speaker I guess I just had to say that because he'd written it already and that lyric still embarrasses me because then the way it rises on me on this single on the article. And so he was very flexible. However, not with that tune, but I think he'd been living with it too long. But he was he was very flexible. As I say, the collaboration was easy and.

Speaker I'm trying to think of other examples for you, if you have any, tell me that you said that when I had one hand, one hand, one heart somewhere.

Speaker What do you mean when you say that that the words must sit on the music?

Speaker Well, because if you're going to write conversational lyrics, which is what I like to do, and and you write conversations, lyrics for conversational musicals, which is what, uh, the kind of show I'm interested in generally. Just the way I'm talking right now, the sentence I'm speaking right now has inflexions, you can hear if you listen to the music of what I'm saying and that a da da da da da music. What I'm saying and in order for a lyric to, I think to seem natural, you have to take the musical inflections into into account and vice versa. And thus, if you're going to say there's a place for us, you don't say there's a place for us. You say there's a place for us. And even if you do, it's low. It's there's a place for us. You would I would always I would have the shorter note than place because I don't want to have the equal weight, not to mention the fact that it would be high and keep it low. And that's what I mean by city. It's got a sound. I mean, I think I shouldn't say all good art seems effortless. It's not true, but a lot of good art seems effortless. You don't want the listener shouldn't sweat. It's the it's the writer who should sweat. And so that if you're sitting in the theater and listening to a song and remember that unlike poetry lyric, is that the time spent in assimilating a lyric is dictated by the music, whereas if you read a poem, you can read at your own speed. So in the theater, the listener has only one chance to understand what's going on. And therefore, and I believe that everything is subordinate to clarity, clarity of thought, clarity and clarity of diction. And so the periodicity of the music has to be taken into account. If if a phrase ends, then there should be an implicit comma or period before going on to the next line. Run on lines are very difficult for the ear to take in unless they're fast. And so it's all about making the thought clear to the listener who only gets one chance at it, not when he's playing a record, but otherwise. And music is so rich and also on the stage, there's so much else going on. The lyrics have to be underwritten, but they must sit on the music so that it's easy for the listener to hear them.

Speaker Are there any examples?

Speaker Oh, I think I read that one from America, where I guess the real question, Lenny came back from Puerto Rico and he was just so excited about Huapango. So he decided to write a whopping pangolin. And yes, it's that lyric which is is pretty embarrassing. There's there's a there's a phrase for a small fee in America, and you have to do that for a small fee. You can't you just can't say it. It's no matter how good the singer is, it's just terrible. You can't say for a small fee, it's that it doesn't sit and the L, the L and the F, I'm it's just terrible. And but with a lyric like that which has such short phrases and I decided for good or ill and I think probably for good to have quadruple rhymes throughout. And once I locked myself into that, it became pretty hard because you got to tell a joke and for very short rhymed lines. And they're all if I had known in advance how much movement that was going to be in all that sort of thing, I would have said, oh, the hell with it. I mean, there's so much going on stage. Nobody's listening to Lyric anyway.

Speaker They only listen to the verses. They only listen to the Marilyn Cooper Chita Rivera section. Not not when all the girls are singing, they listen. You know, Marilyn Cooper, that character, Rosalita, I think she would feed the feline and then Chita Rivera would have the punch line and those the audience could listen to. But when it came to the other, the data, the da da da, nobody nobody is listening anyway. The only word they hear is America. And I sweated for no reason at all and I didn't do a very good job.

Speaker I'm got say that you said that because those lines have got laughs, particularly those lines. I think that I mean, I think what if the lyric makes the peace for you?

Speaker It's the exchanges between the two girls, not when the girls are, not when the entire gang of girls are singing because you can't understand what they're saying. So what made made the number for you was the dancing and the music and then the jokes in between. But not not the I want to be in America. That's that's not that's that's not what the audience was listening to me.

Speaker OK, go ahead. Go ahead and say no.

Speaker I actually really do know that. But because I've probably listened to a story a hundred times, so now I actually do know that I love them and I think they're fighting it. Well, thank you very hard.

Speaker I may be hard on myself, but the fact is you don't remember them. And it's because. Because they're not. They're not. They're not there. That's right. They're not they're not they're not distinguishable.

Speaker They're very hard on to look. I'm of course, I'm. You want an example of of of how difficult it is sometimes for a lyric to be heard or understood. And I gave you one. I mean, there are there are lines like I want to be in America is OK by me in America, those sing. But some of them don't sing, and it's the punch lines that the dancing. Sometimes, and that's really bad, that's really bad because you're heading for a jog and then the ear can't take the joke in. That's right.

Speaker It's not a small thing, but there is one line that I never gets wall-to-wall floors.

Speaker That's it on paper. That's a really good joke. Wall to wall floor. On the lips and the teeth and the tongue, forget it, nobody gets it.

Speaker And again, it's interesting because it's the left from wall to wall floor as it's going from the elsom and wall to the full Senate floors. And it's it's similar to for a small fee, it's an elephant. It's it's very hard to get your tongue from an L shape to an F shape that fast on paper. That's a really good sharp line. And some it's dreadful. For one good reason, you can understand.

Speaker You had to imagine I mean, I know a good case to adapt yourself often to what is music is that it gets sometimes you're what you really want to do. And he's much more purple.

Speaker It's not the music. No, no.

Speaker He his idea of poetic lyrics was not my idea of poetic lyrics. And my idea of poetic lyrics is, oh, what a beautiful morning. Oh, what a beautiful day. It's what happens when the lyric and the music come together. Lenny Lenny liked policy, I think, and or purple prose and kept pushing me to do that. And there's some of it left in it because, you know, I was 25 years old and I was moderately in awe and also wanted to do the job and please everybody. And and Lenny was forceful. And over a period of time, I got my own strength. And by the time we were finishing the collaboration, I was able to to write what I liked, which is, you know, some of these coming is the last song we wrote. And it shows, you know, that's a really good lyric. And but the whole thing of of, uh, the purple ness of the prose or the lyrics is something we and also we fought over. But it was an area of disagreement. He always wanted it to be fancier, and I always wanted to be simpler.

Speaker That's interesting because he prided himself in the West as one of the things he learned from Copland was plainness, not in language, not in language, and not when we worked together.

Speaker Anyway, we actually talked about it on the plane language.

Speaker Yeah. And you'll see that I don't use unnecessarily complicated words. And of course he does all the time.

Speaker Well, it's not about complicated words. It's about pretentiousness.

Speaker He wrote a lyric to the second part of a boy like that. I have a love that went once in your life. Only once in your life comes a flash of fire and light. And there stands your love, the harvest of your years. Now, this is sung by a street girl. I mean a girl, you know, a Puerto Rican girl. I mean, what are we talking about here? It's and, you know, how do you explain to somebody the only way I could explain to write my own lyric, but and again, I have love is is not my favorite lyric, to put it mildly. But at least it's simple. At least it's simple. It's you can believe perhaps that that a girl that that character could could Maria could sing something like that. But I can't believe that anybody could sing the harvest of hers except that opera translation. You know, I have love it.

Speaker It's all that I have. Yeah. They're simple words. No, I didn't know that when he said that about plainness, although he certainly was you know, he was he was so interested in communication that, you know, that makes sense that he would pay lip service to that, but not in the writing. What one of his favorite lines that I wrote was today, the word was just an address, which is a line I could barely put on paper because I thought, really, this boy is going to really sing that tone. He's really a boy like Tony is going to sing that. But he was so enthusiastic.

Speaker I left it in very few places where I think that it sort of stands out. And one of the things that one of the lyrics you really don't like to talk about is that you're pretty. I am.

Speaker I mean, I think I feel pretty sure it's fine.

Speaker It just doesn't belong in the mouth of that character. That's a oh, no, it's just that's against the character. What happened was I you know, I've said this before.

Speaker I'll say it again for your purposes, is that I'd spent so much time writing lyrics like I have a love and where I never got a chance to show off. And I was twenty five years old. I want to show off. And so I want to do something with with some rhymes and some grace and some elegance. And I did it and it's just it just doesn't belong in the mouth of that character. It's not deeply embarrassing, but that whole scene is pretty coy and that that lyric doesn't help. It does not help. That scene is I get a lot of trouble looking at the stage during that scene. You know, it's it's awfully twee. And I would have preferred a I wrote a whole other lyric, as a matter of fact, in Washington, and nobody would accept it and say, oh, it's working. Don't you know Jerry's? He didn't say if it's if it's not broke, don't fix it. But that's what he meant.

Speaker What were some of the other special problems, language problems? Well, they were pretty well solved by Arthur.

Speaker The problem Arthur put his finger on right away. And it's one of the reasons the book is so good is that any kind of street slang he would use would be out of date by the time the Shadowrun, because the language changes so quickly and particularly in urban society. And so he made up his own language. And I think the only word that really is and he picked it from the jazz world was cool, which. Has maintained its its meaning throughout. But, you know, things like fractured a track, which it sounds terrible when you say it, but it it is because it's so peculiar and bizarre. It's not dated. The the language in West Side Story is very formalized. The book is very short and very concise. It's it's it's very masterful. You know, that's a very complicated plot. And the amount of time that either had to to tell the story is so tiny. And and what he was able to do was make up a language. And on paper, I remember when I first looked and I thought, gee, this is pretentious stuff. People think Fragonard are saying things like that, all these made up words. And then I realized what he was doing, which is making I'm reminded of the fact that when I went out to see Satyagraha, the Philip Glass opera, when I heard that it was in Sanskrit, you know, I was making jokes about it. Can you imagine what it was a great idea because it's an open language and you didn't understand one word. So that made sense because, you know, one of the things about hearing something in French or Italian is you may know a smattering of the language. So your ear gets caught by one word and then you get distracted. But if you don't understand it at all, it maintains its freshness. That's what I did. He wrote he wrote Sanskrit. And of course, there are plenty of sentences with recognizable language when the gang was using street talk, jive talk, so to speak, and jive in the old sense, I can made it up. And so I try to do something. Lenny and I wrote a very long while, I should say the prologue, as you may or may not know, it was all set lyrically and I used a lot of either kind of made up language. And on paper it looks. It looks. Very self-conscious, but it sang very well because it was like these people had come from Mars and you you weren't asked to understand exactly what they were saying, but only the tone of what they were saying. Whereas if I'd used any any words of and if I did use any words that were current street lingo at the time, it would be like 23 skidoo today. You know, you just it would be it would date it instead of being what is that film? So that was the language stuff. I what I figured, and I think rightly, that if I could just keep all the language very simple, then it wouldn't date.

Speaker Can you give me an example from the prologue?

Speaker Oh, I don't remember it. I remember that the gang sitting around in their clubhouse and and they're taking an imaginary trip to the moon and they say they're afraid of the moon as the moon.

Speaker Aroney And it sounded like kids, but it didn't sound like something you'd heard before and.

Speaker Uh.

Speaker That's one one example I'm thinking I I don't know, I'd have to sit here for a while and think of that lyric, maybe it'll come to you.

Speaker Um, what do you mean when you talk about bloodless lyrics?

Speaker Oh, they're lyrics that I think are essentially have no passion to them that they're written. They sound like like a writer at work. One hand, one heart. I believe they don't sound like people. They sound like a writer is putting words down there. Um, that's all. That's the same thing with any bloodless writing or bloodless art at all. You it's it's the absence of passion and the absence of feeling, whereas can be perfectly respectable. You know, even the lyrics I don't like in West Side and there are a lot of them are respectable lyrics. They're they're nothing to be ashamed of. I just don't think they're very good, but nothing be ashamed of.

Speaker And I was very hard to set the tune like somewhere I have a love one hand on heart. They're very formal tunes, they're really instrumentals, they're really not songs. I don't think Lenny was primarily a songwriter. I think he was a composer of instrumental music and ballet music, particularly with his board as far as I'm concerned. And I don't think his songs really are our songs. And I got to know that while I was working with him, I thought these it's I can't make these things sing.

Speaker They just. They should be played in the pit.

Speaker And that's not true of all of them, but it's true of the lovesongs. And even tonight feels to me like an instrumental doesn't feel like a song, whereas the faster numbers, the opening, you know, the jet song and something's coming. Krupke, they feel like songs, even cool feels like a song. But but the others feel very formal to me.

Speaker So I was describing what we had done and what and what I was actually doing was trying, you know, those sun puff pieces were to prepare the audience and the critics for what they were going to see. And particularly in those days when all the critics came on one night and all of them had, you know, 45 minutes to write their stories. So it was very important every Sunday that there be a piece about the shows that were coming up were usually written by the author, sometimes by an actor and actress to tell the the critics what to expect. So that's why I wanted to do that. He wanted to say this is not an ordinary music he wanted.

Speaker He wanted to warn people like that guy who left during the prologue what what he was in for or what. And so he was describing it. But believe me, I wish I wouldn't have walked out of the room. But I mean, I would have I would have screamed with laughter if if anybody said, let's, you know, we got to do is change the face of the American theater, then he didn't say that.

Speaker I'm glad, actually, that, you know, he said it afterwards.

Speaker He said afterwards, believe me, he wouldn't have said it if the show had been a flop.

Speaker One of the things that people talk about, and I know this is kind of hard sometimes to describe it was.

Speaker That was the fact that there was so little I mean, it really is a tribute to the genius of the book that there's so little dialogue. Absolutely. Could you talk about that?

Speaker Yeah. Arthur had the had the job of having to tell this extremely melodramatic story. You know, there's every scene has as either a murderer or, you know, a gang fight or a tempestuous romance. I mean, things happen. It's a very melodramatic story. And he had no time to do because I don't know what the percentage would be. But let's say that with the usual musicals, 50 percent of it was with songs and 50 percent were book scenes.

Speaker With West Side, it's 70 percent are songs and dances and choreographed and 30 percent book.

Speaker And yet the plot, a West Side Story, is a much more dense plot than any musical I can think of, at least up to that time. And so he had the the double whammy of having to tell a much more complicated story than usual and in a much shorter time. And it's a it's that book is a miracle of conciseness, and it's one of the things that gives the show its muscle. There's the motor energy of the dance music and the motor energy of the way that story told. And that's what keeps that show from ever getting dull. Pretentious it gets. But it doesn't get dull. And it's because of those the combined elements of the pulse of the music, not the not the songs, but the pulse of the dance music and and and the pulse of the book. Do you think that's what keeps it. Absolutely. What keeps it fresh? Yeah, I think it'll always be entertaining. I really believe that narrative drive is is it is important to not me because I love to experiment with musicals that don't have narrative drive. I love trying to see other ways of doing it. But when you have narrative drive, one of the things about Sweeney Todd, it's the narrative drive. It's what's going to happen next. West Side, what's going to happen next, even if you know the story, what's going to happen next? And it's interesting, either improved on last night we went to see Orange, which I highly recommend. Really interesting. And you know what it is? It's for four guys doing Romeo and Juliet. But there's a reason that these four guys doing it's very easy and it gets much less interesting in the second half. And that's because Shakespeare's plays much less interesting in the second half, I think did he took the whole last two acts of Romeo and Juliet and put them in about three minutes, because that's all they're worth in terms of storytelling. If you don't have the poetry, then nothing is happening. You know, once they go to Friar Lawrence's and it's all that stuff about the poison, that's another thing that author did brilliantly.

Speaker How do you substitute for the gimmick that Shakespeare you know, I mean, he must have thought it up over. And I thought, oh, God, how am I going to kill them off? I know that it'll be a poison that makes makes somebody appear dead. But then then the messenger, you'll get interrupted on the road because there'll be a plague and then they won't get the message. And it's all nonsense. And what Arthur did was rooted in character by having Anita come to deliver the message and having the gang rape her so that it is the prejudice itself that causes the message not to be delivered. And that's, you know, that's good playwrighting, but easy to say now how to think up when when you come to it. Very hard. Lenny and I, we actually we had we were writing a song that was going to be a fake suicide. Maria was going to leave her shoes by the East River so that people think she drowned herself and blah, blah, all kinds of melodramatic happenings. And I came up with this, which is much more integral and. And it's like exciting dance moment to when they start raping Anita.

Speaker Do you think that with the stories of tragedy and I ask that in the classical sense.

Speaker Oh, I don't know. I know you'd have to define tragedy for me before I. I mean, uh, um. Gosh, there's some there's some wonderful, aphoristic definitions of tragedy and comedy. Oh, it's got an unhappy ending, that's all I can say. I you know, I think words like tragedy and comedy perhaps. I mean, people associate comedy with laughs and that's not necessarily true. And they associate tragedy with death. And that's not necessarily true. You know, so I think I don't believe in labels anyway. It's it's a musical with an unhappy ending.

Speaker Let's talk about the casting. I know I've read that you were incredibly instrumental in casting only about Larry Kert who played Tony.

Speaker That's really there was no way you would have read that. But I think Larry Kert at Camp Talent, which was a one of the summer resorts where they put on a different show every weekend and like Mary Rogers was working there and she was a good friend. And I went up to see a couple of shows and saw this really talented guy. And we were looking for Tony. Lenny wanted desperately to have a tenor who could get up to a high C, so we saw a lot of overweight 40 year olds coming to audition for an 18 year old boy. And it was very hard to dissuade him very hard. And but, you know, he was outvoted. And so we wanted somebody who, you know, could sing but wasn't necessarily somebody get up to a high seat. He'd written the Heisey in the obbligato of Maria. And when Larry Kert came in to auditions and he was my suggestion, he could only hit an F couldn't get up, but he was really lyric baritone. He wasn't a tenor. And by the time he got finished on the run, he had stretched his voice up to an hour, got up to an hour. But that was that was my major suggestion for the casting. The other other the casting thing I remember was Carroll Lawrence, who played Maria had auditioned a number of times. And the the best we thought she could do would be perhaps as a stand by for Maria and we couldn't find a Maria. And finally, one day she came in for like the third audition and Arthur said to Jerry, Have you read it with a Puerto Rican accent?

Speaker And the minute she read it with an accent, she became a real. And it was really interesting. Same actors, same performance, but with an accent. She was married and nobody ever thought to ask her to redo an accent.

Speaker Several people have talked about the difficulties in casting because of the need to have people who could sing and dance and, you know, do all those things, so I'm not going to ask you to tell that story. But it wasn't. Finally, one of the strengths that that that the dancing actually drove the casting and so that the singers really did sound like kids in the street.

Speaker I mean, it wasn't like this. Professional voices.

Speaker Now, there were musical comedy people involved in musicals. No, it wasn't like we took kids off the street. These were these were trained. There were a couple of ballet dancers, people who I think had not been on Broadway stage four, but had been in ballet. But, you know, Carol, I'd seen Carol Lawrence do musicals and Larry had done music. And, you know, there were musical comedy people and by musical comedy and musical theater. But in those days, there were such pretentious terms as musical theater. But just people people had been in musicals. The rehearsal process were quite something. Well, not as much as I would like to, maybe because Jerry was very, very, very touchy about anybody seeing him work that included Lenny and Arthur. And I remember the first day I was so excited, the first rehearsal, my first show, and I bounded up the stairs into the rehearsal hall and Jerry stopped. What he was doing came over and said, I'd like you to leave. And I was crushed.

Speaker And he said, I can't work with anybody else in the room. He over a period of years went when he gradually let down his guard a bit. And when he was working on we called him in to help with the funny happened the way the forum in Washington. And I said, don't worry, I won't go. He said, you can come in. It's OK. By that time it was four years later, he had relented.

Speaker But on West Side, he was he was he didn't even want Lenny Brown. And Lenny wasn't around. It was he did all this stuff with Benny Wahlberg. I realized that now, you know, when I say, oh, well, that's my memory in check with Jerry.

Speaker Sounds like it was a pretty tough rehearsal.

Speaker Well, what I know was I remember every time Jerry would show us anything, I just melted. I just thought what he did was just dazzling. And and it was also exciting because with my first show, I know the rehearsal process. Jerry, Jerry is tough to work with.

Speaker He's very hard to work with. And I just do not get into that. And that is true. That is true. But I don't think that belongs in a show about Lenny.

Speaker Yeah, I mean, I could tell I could tell if one person said, I know I can I can only do think I can talk to Jerry Robinson. God, you know, I can tell you. Yes, as a matter of fact, I'll tell you I'll tell you an anecdote.

Speaker Jerry took over the orchestration in Washington. Of somewhere, he had said to Lenny that he wanted specific kind of sound and Lenny did his own kind of sound. And Jerry. During the August reading in the pit and the cast was on stage, Jerry got up from his seat, walked down the aisle in front of the cast and the orchestra and Lenny, who was sitting next to me. Said to the conductor, all right, circle those instruments, meaning take those instruments out. Now I want something. And he started to orchestrate in front of Lenny and I thought, oh, boy, it's going to be a fight now. I couldn't wait because I could get on the phone and call my friends in New York and say, well, you should have the flight back. Not at all. I looked and the seat was suddenly empty next to me, and Lenny was nowhere to be found. And I thought and so I went to the front of the theater from the house, you know, the lobby. And he wasn't there. And I had an instinct. And I went out on the street and I looked for the nearest bar and there was one down the block about a block away. And I went there and Lenny was there with three scotches lined up in front of him shot. Rather than confront Jerry and it was his music that Jerry was screwing around with, and rather he went off to the bar, Jerry Jerry's of Jerry's a fearsome film, and I'm sure some film where you found it in bar.

Speaker Did you ask him why he was. No, I didn't. Oh, gosh, no.

Speaker No, I don't. I asked for a scotch. I don't know. I don't know. Yeah. Yes, it was embarrassing. It was embarrassing. I was embarrassed for him and angry for it.

Speaker But it wasn't up to you know, I certainly we did not talk about it. We did not talk about it. I'm curious about this.

Speaker Do you think that Lenny thought that maybe Jerry was right and that that caused.

Speaker No, no, no. Jerry wanted a sound for his dance and Lenny wanted a sound for his music.

Speaker And Lenny was right in terms of what Lenny wanted. And Jerry was right in terms with Jerry wanted. They want different things, so neither was right or wrong. Um, it was it was the. It was the sort of. It was the hutzpah of taking over an orchestra in front of the guy, just it's it's just not good. I mean, he could have had it out with Lenny later and said, I want that changed and gotten a change. But he wouldn't do it. I had to do it right there.

Speaker If you had to describe and I know that the descriptions are not your thing, but if you had to say what was original or unique about the music in, you know, a couple of sentences, what would you say?

Speaker I couldn't. I mean, it's it's original because it's money and it's original with Lenny. It's his style of writing. Unique. You know, that's the kind of question you can answer about anything. I mean, what makes what makes Beethoven's music unique or what makes Kern or Arlon?

Speaker It's a different way. What would you how would you describe the qualities of the.

Speaker Oh, the music, the West Side. The music I like anyway, is the music that has real kinetic energy. It's got drive and rhythm and theatrical colour. I think Lenny's great strength as a theatre writer was knowing how music functions. As I said earlier, I don't think he was a songwriter, but he sure knew when music should come in and how it should colour a scene, underscoring he was wonderful at that and dance and that sort of thing. He he had a real sense of which is absolutely innate.

Speaker And I think you can't teach it of how music operates in a theatre. And it's a very specific kind of talent, and I know some composers who are really good composers who do not have that sense, that really they're very good songs, but they don't have the sense of how music is used in the theater the way Lenny did elaborate on that. It's hard because you have to give specific examples. And West Side is so filled with exciting music and for the dancers that I don't know how one would describe.

Speaker Moments.

Speaker I'm better at describing how moments work in songs, but in dance music, you'd have to play the piece and look at what was happening on stage and say, see how that works. See how that change of color works. Because that was another thing about Lenny, is very few composers orchestrate their own music in the theater because there isn't time. And in fact, as you know, on West Side syndrome and nerve, Costel did it. But Lenny Supervisor and Lenny sense of color and what an orchestra can do is very important again, to the theatricality of the piece, which sends a very theatrical piece. I've said it's about the theater and it seems to me the great strength of the music, apart from its innate excitement, is how it serves the melodrama of what's going on, you know. Conveying that right, and you have to give some of that credit to Jerry, because, Jerry, one of the reasons I think Jerry and Lenny worked so well together is that Lenny smelled what Jerry wanted and Jerry knew how to articulate, even though he wasn't saying, I want an F sharp there. But he knew how to convey to Lenny what he wanted. And it's hard for me to think of the dancers in West Side as having any music other than Jerry's. It's one of the problems they had with on the town with this last revival is, you know, they were dissatisfied with the choreography. Well, of course they were, because Lenny wrote that music for Jerry's choreography. And you can't then just put other choreography on top of the musical on the town, you have to use Jeri's Gorog because that's how they were written, like collaborator's, like words and music. And that's one of the triumphs of West Side Story, is the dances and the music go together. And they're inseparable.

Speaker Well, look at the response there. There's a legend that's, you know, because it's become such a legend in the theater that it immediately was huge.

Speaker Oh, no, not at all. No, it had a respectable run. And for the last six months of its you know, it went it closed in New York, went out on the road and then came back to New York for another six months. And the last six months in New York, Rome were on hours.

Speaker Say two tickets for the price of one. It was never a big hit. It made its money back mostly, I think, because the cast was young and inexperienced and got small salaries. So the running cost was not very great and it was extremely well produced. You know how Prince Bobby Griffith knew how to produce a show and ah and produce it economically. So it it cost much, too much discomfort with a lot of artists like that guy on the second night who left after the first couple of minutes. It was not what people wanted to see, particularly the songs were never recorded or rarely. I think there were I believe only two so-called popular artists are Johnny Mathis and Dinah Shore. Each did a song from West Side, but the songs, nobody knew the songs until the movie came out. The movie is what made the score popular. And because they played it over and over and over again, the disc jockeys and because United Artists, you know, it's been a lot of money on the movie and they wanted to plug the score and they did. And as with all music, if you hear it enough times, you can hum it. But when when they came out, even the good even the critics that liked the show said, unfortunately, you can't commit. But gee, the dance was exciting, but you can't harmony the songs. And it's nonsense, of course. And but it did happen. And that score was not. Heard, really heard by the public for four years to a movie came out and then it was heard every place. So much for critics. Yeah, well, exactly, exactly. Ten years they have. And and also it's it's, you know, taking a music of that kind of complexity on one hearing. It's hard to tell. It's hard to tell. You know, usually if you can have a song on one hearing, you've heard it before. You know, it's usually like another song and particularly something like the songs on West Side. But it was it got mixed reception. It got generally favorable notices.

Speaker It didn't win the Tony Award. It was not well thought of. What did Music Man?

Speaker That would actually be very wonderful statement if you could just say what what was the climate on Broadway? The West Side Story was competing.

Speaker Well, it's not the West Side Story was competing with anything on Broadway.

Speaker It was because it's I think of its subject matter and the fact that it did end unhappily and that it had its own pretensions. It was not welcomed by the so-called Broadway community or by the public very much it was tolerated. And for people with ears and eyes, it was exciting. And so there were many people who were excited by it, but it was not a big hit for that reason, whereas the Music Man were which ran in the same season and won the Tony Award West Side Story tonight and the Critics Circle Award. West Side Story, you not oh, it was was much more popular show and and Music Man had a lot of experimental aspects to it, but it was what Lillian Hellman used to call up. She used to call certain plays a pleasant people with pleasant problems, not a populated play. Music Man is about pleasant people with pleasant problems. And that's what people wanted to see in the theater and still do. Still do.

Speaker Let me describe the collaboration with you as an incredible joy. We had a great time and that that you really like an alter ego to him. And partly maybe because you're also.

Speaker Yeah, because I was a musician. That's part of it. And also we shared things like crossword puzzles and anagrams. I mean. So it was really we were having a good time apart from writing and getting to know each other.

Speaker I would say, though, from what I little I know of you, although I am one of the biggest fans, I really mean that. And when I've got to know about Lenny that temperamentally you're about as different as you'd be, which is that, yes, we were temperamentally I was very and still am.

Speaker I'm quite recessive, but I'm not particularly outgoing and various. And Lenny was nothing. But as you know, I mean, he just he loved being around people and talking and being flamboyant. And I my tendency was to sit in the corner and just watch. So I'm less that way now. But never a on Lenny, who was, you know, gregarious to a fault. I mean, he just he just he was out there all the time when we were working together. He had the same kind of exuberance, although it was quite often contained if he was thinking. But enthusiasm was an open enthusiasm was very much a part of every day we worked together. And that's good because I tend when I work, I love collaborating, but I tend to see the black side of things. I tend to see the dangers in writing the song or the scene. We got to be careful not to do that. I want to be careful, not that Lenny was Lenny told me one wonderful lesson.

Speaker He didn't put it this way, but. It was and I'm not even sure he articulated it, but he did it by certainly by example, which is if you're going to fail. You're going to fall off the ladder, fall off a high rung.

Speaker He was always taking chances. And so that's why his failures are huge and deeply embarrassing because they're huge. And there's nothing niggly and nothing petty about anything that Lenny wrote. You always, always out there, wham, and when it works, it's thrilling. And when it doesn't work, you want to hide, hide your under the chair. But that's and that's that's an important thing to do. I think I think you're going to I think it's very important to always fall off the edge of the hierarchy. I've been trying to do that when I fall, and I hope they've been huge falls.

Speaker I haven't had too many of those. I've had a few. Oh, what what do you think is what's your personal favorites of Lenny's composition?

Speaker Oh, the serenade. The first three movements of the serenade, my favorite of his. And I like a lot of a lot of his ballet music. And I mean, I love Fancy Free and I, I like to do big variations. He didn't like the age of anxiety, but I do think that symphony. But the serenade is the one I will always go for. The first three months, particularly the opening bars of that are as beautiful as anything I've ever in my life.

Speaker It's really I feel that Gerima I don't know it well, I've never I've never gotten to it. It infects similar the two that I've never quite gotten to. It's not that I dislike them. I just, I don't, I don't I don't relate to them the way I do to the other symphonic pieces of it.

Speaker Do you ever talk to you have to talk to you about his response to the stage?

Speaker No, he didn't. No, he didn't. I'm not sure he ever acknowledge them. Did he OK? Well, he didn't to me oh, like what what failure did he have knowledge that he didn't to me when I went down to see Mass at his invitation. Oh.

Speaker I said something, and it sounds in retrospect bitchy, but it was not meant to be after it was all over. I said I wish the whole thing had been in Latin. I was not so much criticizing lyrics, what I was saying is I wish it weren't specific. I wish you wouldn't tell me what to think. I wish it weren't preachy. I wish it were just music. And I think I would have been a much better peaceful. But, you know, Lenny had these ambitions. I know Steve Schwartz wrote a lot of the stuff, but he had this ambition to be a poet and he wasn't. And the more he tried, the more embarrassing it got and where he was a poet was in his music and in his teaching and indeed in his life. But but not but not when it came to writing it, though, although I like some of the lyrics and Zahedi, I think the movie song from is terrific. And I like some of the the husband y stuff and some of the trio stuff. So it's not that he couldn't write lyrics, but he tended to preach at you and to make big statements and tell you this is an important work. That's when a work is important.

Speaker He's played that dichotomy. He was he was, in fact, an extraordinarily sophisticated man. And yet he. I mean, I feel that even his children say that this need to preach the need for everything to be terribly important. It is very, very naive. Yeah, I can't explain.

Speaker I just wanted to be important. He wanted he wanted to be he wanted to be the Renaissance man, you know? And I don't know what white people want to be important. Some do. Some don't. But he did. I can't. I have no explanation of it. I don't know enough about his childhood, I'm sure can be psychoanalyzed down to a dime, you know, but he just wanted every work to be important. He wanted rather he wanted people to think it was important. See, I wish I, I wish I could say he wanted to be important. I think he wanted people to think it was important. And that's a trap. That's a trap. You're sure. What what writer is and why do you think people write? Because he was insecure. He was very secure in aspects of his art, like conducting. He was very secure. He was not secure as a writer. I was 25 years old. And he would he would when I would come into work, he would if he had an idea between, say, now, look, I know this is Brahms.

Speaker I know it's also Steve. I know that. But I just want to I just it's an idea. He would make excuses to me before he played. There was nobody else in the room when I think got so impatient that I would come in and to hear a new song. And Lenny would say, now Arthur's and I would say spiel, Lenny spiel, Spielrein play, just spiel. I can look at now you know, I know it spiel. Lenny just want it. He didn't want to sit around for five minutes of excuses. Now, you know, I, I was astonished to find that kind of behavior on my part, you know, that he was insecure in front of me about playing something when we were working together. I was I was nervous enough giving him a lyric. But, you know, I had no track record. I'm kind of the same thing. When I worked with Richard Rodgers, I couldn't believe it, not with Julie St. Jude. I never doubt himself. Richard Rodgers constantly excuse what he was going to play me.

Speaker Didn't make any sense to me. I do it, but I can't believe that they would, do you know? Oh, and so in that sense, he was very insecure, I think. But I think that's healthy. I think it's healthy to I think it's healthy not to be smug about what you're writing. But he did try to put a price tag on everyone and it had to be a big price tag. There's a 10 million dollar piece of music.

Speaker What how would you describe your personal relationship?

Speaker Well, Lenny was, as I'm sure other people have told you, it was wonderful one on one.

Speaker But when there were other people around, he became Leonard Bernstein in his own mind with the capital and capital B, and it was less fun. But he was terrific one on one and towards in the last decade of his life, I would only see him maybe twice or three times a year. And always I insisted he had to come to my house for dinner. I had to go to his house for dinner because I had to be one on one, because I really couldn't deal with with the the ego inflation that would happen when other people were around. And it caused a couple of unpleasant moments that we had occasionally, one just dinner with him and Felicia and me and and it it was not good.

Speaker Not good. Why do you that have.

Speaker Why do you think he began to buy out the press.

Speaker Why. Began to buy his own myth. I don't know that a lot of people do that, as I say, I think it meant so much to him to be thought of as important. And I can't tell you why I did that, but that's what that's why I think, you know, you try and I think try to try to think of himself in the third person, you know? He never used the third person, but he eyed one I once said to him, he got very angry. I said, why does almost every sentence out of your mouth begin with the word I. And he got really angry. He left the room. This was the dinner I had with him in Felecia and he left the dining table and went out of the building, walked around the block and came back. I said to flechette, you know, she said she just said, Steve, you can't. And I wasn't saying I was saying it. I was saying I think out of probably a built up resentment of that kind of egoism. And whatever had been going on at dinner was just too much, Lenny, and not enough about the three of us or whatever mean who knows. And so I, I, I, I'm suspicious of my own motives for saying it, but I had no idea it was going to cause such. I really meant it as a pinking in. I didn't it was not supposed to be a slap in the face but he took it as a slap in the face. Yeah, I touched a button but I really if I'd known I was going to have that consequence, I wouldn't have done it now.

Speaker But I think you hit on true. Yeah.

Speaker And, you know, I don't think anybody ever maybe foolishly did, but I don't think anybody ever said to his face, you're egoistic, you know, and you're making things up. You know, he had this fantasy, Leonard Bernstein, in his mind. And some of it was real because he was so highly thought of and so accomplished and so talented. So there were grounds for believing it. But not enough.

Speaker What do you think is most important legacy? And again, that's one of those questions.

Speaker Oh, gosh, I think some of some of the music is is a legacy.

Speaker And certainly what he did in educational terms, you know, I think those young people concert broadcast should be shown every year. I just think they're thrilling. He was a great teacher and he clearly loved it. And art is a form of teaching anyway. And so he was able to do it in so many ways. I don't know enough about conducting to know what kind of a legacy that is. I really don't know what makes a great conductor, a good conductor, a poor conductor, a consistent conductor. But certainly some of the ballet music and some symphonic music I think will give pleasure 100 years hence. And the teaching was just great.

Speaker Do we just have a moment of that exception to the rule? Not a lot, sure, but I do.

Speaker I interview John where he talks about it very interestingly, and I'm going to ask Jerry about it and you'll find you'll find this irrational.

Speaker We all remember it differently. What's your version? The exception of the rule? Jerry wanted me to do a piece by Brecht called The Measures Taken.

Speaker And I try and I couldn't make it work. I know it's a matter of fact. That's not true. Yeah, no measures taken, I read it and I didn't see how could be a musical, and he said, well, what about the next one in the book, which is called The Exception The Rule. It was a paperback of Brecht's plays. And so I read the exception, the rule. I tried to write a song for it. I think I wrote a song and a half and I couldn't make it work. I just Brecht is not my man. And so I said to him, Why don't you give it to Lenny? I think he could do lyrics because he's done good lyrics and trouble in Tahiti and could write this for you. And it's the kind of thing I think would be right up his alley. He said, I don't I don't think he could do the lyrics. I said, then I don't know what to suggest. Well, anyway, what what they did was they got Jerry Lieber of Leiber and Stoller to write it, and he was writing with Lenny. And Jerry Robbins called me and said, it's not working out and I want you to go in here. I don't think the songs are working out. So I went up to hear them and Lenny played them and I thought they were terrific. They'd written maybe half a dozen songs, I really thought, and they were right for the piece. So there it lay. And then I was at a party and Jerry Money were there and they beckoned me off into a corner or into another room and said, it's not going to work out. Won't you please do the lyrics? And I said, no, I like composing. And I really and I don't like Brecht and I love working with the two of you. But but and Stuart Ostro was going to produce it was doing Ostrer took me to lunch and he said, I want to tell you what the idea of the show is, which I may have the chronology wrong. The point is, I remember that watch Costo told me that John Grare was going to do a libretto and John Weir had this notion about a television studio. And I thought it was a brilliant idea and really exciting. And in a moment of excited weakness, I said yes. So we started working on it.

Speaker And after we'd written about eight songs, I realized that all the fun of the show was in the square part, the television studio, and that the central piece, because, you know, it was about this this this show being put on in a television studio. And there was the the frame in the television studio was funny and fun. And the exception the rule was still the exception and the rule, you know, for my money locks play.

Speaker And I said, I just I can't go on. I cannot go on. I said, you can keep the songs. You can do anything you wish with them. They're yours. But I can't. I can't I can't go on this way. Jerry had started to lose interest, too, and it's all occurred at a dinner with the four of us, John, Jerry and me and Lenny. And Lenny was devastated because he really he put so much time and effort and he didn't have that much time to write anyway because he was so busy doing other things. And he was really, really bothered by it. And but I couldn't I couldn't in all good faith go on with it. I didn't think what we were doing was good and I didn't think what I was doing was good. And I didn't think the project was going to be any fun except for what I was doing. And as you know, they try to resuscitate the peace about six years ago, something that and John wrote some lyrics. I know. And I told him he could use any of the songs they want. I still think the best songs were the ones that Jerry Leiber wrote.

Speaker Lenny, I think, is going to be some kind of version of it in the fall or something.

Speaker I heard I will be in Connecticut about it. I can't wait to get one little piece of music from it, but I don't think anything recorded.

Speaker But it's been recorded by Lenny and me. It what we did, we have I have a tape of it. Shut down a rehearsal. Oh can we borrow it.

Speaker I don't know, let me hear to go listen to it. I know, because I, I, I really don't like it. I really don't like it. I really I really don't like it.

Speaker Well, also also, you know, this is when I say record, a little tape recorder was put on top of the piano and, you know, and we stop in the middle of numbers and we're doing it down at Jerry's rehearsal studio on 19th Street. And Stuart was there and it may have been for Stu. I don't remember why we actually taped him.

Speaker But what role did you take together? No, no, just not no, we didn't do anything, Vanessa.

Speaker When I was around, I don't tape recorders were very common then there were wire recorders I love. I don't I don't remember a lot of tape machines going on.

Speaker I like to go back to the 50s when I saw it on.

Speaker You were when you were going and spending time with with Lenny and Felicia, the family in Martha's Vineyard.

Speaker Oh, great. Oh yeah. I we used to make movies. I had a movie camera, 60 millimeter movie camera and Lenny Inflation and the family had made movies before. So I was fitting right into the tradition. But Felicia very wisely said, I do not want to plan on spending a weekend making movies. She said, if you come up here to visit, which I did, we did one in the vineyard and we did one in a rock or whatever. I want to say rock metal. That's Mary's house up at Fairfield.

Speaker But I can't remember the name of the of the of the estate, what's called it. In fact, it's printed on stationery long my memory. And I would so I would arrive at the Vineyard or up in Fairfield with my camera. And if on Friday night. We felt like making a movie and Felicia felt like then she said, then we make it, we'll plan it Friday night and we'll shoot it Saturday.

Speaker But that's it. No, Sunday, just Saturday, because I do not want to spend my life planning movies, obviously. So she'd have some trouble in the past with the family. And Felicia had the first one we did actually the first one we did didn't come out because I had a I had a shutter problem on the cam, which I wasn't aware of. So I got all the film back from the lab. The bottom third of it was black because there was there was a mirror that was supposed to swing away and it didn't swing all the way. So the first one we did, which was which it starred Lenny as a it was able to take off on Goldenboy Odets play and a movie called Humoresque in which John Garfield played a violinist who got involved with a rich, neurotic lady. And Felicia played the rich, neurotic lady. And Lenny was a concert trombonist and prizefighter. And and it was and he got involved and he had his wife play offer Bekele and this rich, neurotic lady played by I think the climax was when she in Humoresque, Joan Crawford, walks off into the ocean, commit suicide. And so in my version, I have Felecia going down the dock and I just followed her feet and then a trail of her jewelry because she she always you want you orbanes, who she had dripping with jewels. And you just watch the jewelry being dropped off on the dock and then the camera panned up and that was just water there. And it was that kind of thing. But it didn't it didn't come out because of the bottom of the picture. But then the second time, Felicia said, all right, let's we'll make a movie. She said, I've always wanted to be an opera star, so let's do Tosca. So we did the last ten minutes of the second act of Tosca, which is all done on the Saturday. Felicia did all set decorations, which are brilliant, and she plays Tosca and Lenny Place Gharbia and I play his henchmen from coming up from behind him. Now, I have no skill whatsoever in photography. So, you know, there'd be a shot in blinding white light here and then shot from the side in complete darkness on the set, continuing the same scene, you know, and I had I caught it on it was optically recorded, was in the camera.

Speaker It was I'm sorry, the magnetic tape in the camera was not.

Speaker And what I hadn't realised is because it was a Springtown camera that even though Felicia and Lenny were lip synching to the Callas recording, that when the film came out, when came back from the lab, because the camera speed subtly slowed down as the spring unwound, that the lip synching would be fine for about a third of the shot and then it was going to start moving again. By the end of the shot, it was way off. Lenny found there were three machines, one in Chicago, one in New York and one in Germany that could change the speed of a tape without affecting the pitch. It was a German machine and it cost him about 600 bucks. But he managed he took the tape, the film, rather, to this place, which on forty seconds screen, and we got, I'd say, about 80 percent of it. Lipps Lip-Sync through utilizing this machine, which would speed up and slow it down, but without changing the pitch. And so I do you. Oh, I good that. It was a great well the great thing about it is Felecia did something so brilliant, she instead of playing Tosca, she played a great diva playing Tosca. So the attitude is what makes it funny, you know, and I had her at one point taken before she sings vesi, either take an atomizer and spray her throat. And I had one really nice zoom shot going in to her tonsils. And she had she had Louis the big high note and she opened her mouth. I got right in and then come right back out. And it was fun. And but we did that one day and then we did another one in Fairfield, which was called Whatever Happened to Felicia Montealegre? It was a take off on whatever had a Baby Jane with Phyllis Newman and Felicia playing rival sisters and Lenny the stranger who comes into their lives. I took from Tennessee Williams play from Orpheus descending like Marlon Brando with a guitar. They were great fun. And it was those summer weekends with the Bernstein's among the best weekends I ever had, because when Lenny was relaxed and away from what we call the madding crowd, where he didn't have to be anybody but himself, he was fun. You know, he's a great game player. He loved that. He was enthusiastic about everything. And, you know, he just he was just exuberant. And up in Martha's Vineyard, there was no need to be a celebrity.

Speaker If it was a different lady, I mean, yeah, in general, though, that over his life, I mean, you know, by the time he was a different landing anyway, I don't I didn't know him that well.

Speaker I mean, I really knew him best in the 50s and early 60s. And by the mid 60s, we saw each other less frequently. And because our lives just, you know, sort of separate, not not for any particular reason. So I can't really and when when all the difficulties in his life happened, you know, with Felicia and then the separation and Felicia's illness and all that sort of thing, I didn't see him very much so. And certainly a series of events like that can change anybody. I've no idea how every time I would see him one on one, it was the old Lenny.

Speaker I can't refinance you that I think maybe we were just changing tape. Let me have to talk to you about his conflict between the Broadway of the theater and the symphony.

Speaker No, no, no, no. I don't I don't know. Not that there was a conflict. I the only thing I remember him saying is he wished he had more time to write. But I don't think it had to do with with whether it was writing for Broadway or not. He was he wanted to be, you know, the master of all trades. So he wanted to have a musical. He wanted to be the the right the most successful musical, as well as be the most successful conductor and, you know. Right. The most successful symphony, whatever it was. So, you know, I was I was I was around when when in Philadelphia when they were trying out sixteen hundred Pennsylvania Avenue.

Speaker And, you know, he was really not happy, wasn't it. He wasn't happy with Candy either. He invited me up to Boston to to give my opinion. I was 26 years old. Give my opinion to Tyrone Guthrie, Lillian Hellman and Richard Wilbur.

Speaker You know, I thought I was just going to go out because he wanted to see the show. And suddenly there I was in a hotel room giving my opinion with people where they were. So I don't remember. I was so embarrassed and so shy, but I doubt if they were, I think and I'm sure they would think, oh, God, look what Lenny is putting us through. He's getting this, you know, young punk from New York to tell us how to fix our show. The original candied. Incidentally, I liked it. A lot of the problem was that the book had nothing to do with the score, which had nothing to do with the direction they were all coming from different. I liked Lillian Hellman's book very much, but it was truly black, whereas the score, which I think is Lenny's best score, is is a bubble and fun and sparkle and and the direction was like an operetta. Well, so that's, you know, how was able to pull all the forces together, Hal Prince when he did the revival. But it was some I wrote some lyrics for you about that house request, you know.

Speaker So do you think that that version is the most successful?

Speaker Oh, yeah, I think it is the most successful.

Speaker I find the original candy more interesting because of the blackness of the book. But certainly the most successful is is although I like the version I like best is the one that hal it first, which was a 90 minute version. I think the trouble with candied is because it's episodic, it just goes on too long. And when it's concise, the way it was Hal's first version, as opposed to his second version when it went to the New York City Opera, was suddenly in two acts and all those songs came flooding back. And again, it's not the songs aren't good. It's just that's it should be concert, even if you to do all the songs. But it doesn't hold together as well. I think when it was tight in 90 minutes was terrific. And you think that was his best score. Oh yeah. Oh yes. Oh yeah. Oh yeah. Oh yeah. That almost every, every song. Candy, I love Richard Wilbur's lyrics. I think almost every song is there. Some I liked better than others. But it's always fresh. It's always a delight. I think it's I think I think it's and it's interesting.

Speaker Lenny would Lenny would when he would play me stuff for me because he wanted me to do the lyrics. And what had happened, as you probably know about Candy, is a version had been written before West Side. We started writing West Side and John Latouche had done lyrics and he died and then and the project died. And then it was resuscitated while we were writing West Side. And suddenly it all came to life again and it was going to be produced by this woman, Ethel, into Reiner. And so Lenny said, would you do lyrics? And I said, I really want to write music. So if we're going to take a six month hiatus from my side, which is what we did, Arthur wrote Political Clearing in the Woods and Jerry directed Bells are Ringing. And Lenny went off to do candy. And I wanted to write music and I started musical, which never came to fruition and also earn a living. So I wrote some scripts for a television series called The Last Word and. Lenny asked and I suggested. I suggested, I think, Flanders of Flanders and Swann, and because I thought, who writes the kind of crisp, satirical, well rhymed lyric, and as you may or may not know, Flanders was crippled and he couldn't travel the United States easily because he was in a wheelchair. And so that didn't work out. And Lenny got Richard Wilbur and it was an inspired choice.

Speaker I don't know if was Lenin's idea, but it was inspired because the really, really wonderful lyrics and and just write for the show. But I didn't want to just do lyrics, one last question time at the helm game. Oh, well, it's much more than that than the Helen coach game for Lenny's fiftieth birthday. I guess it was. Yeah, I invented it was he was about to take over. They've taken over the Philharmonic. Let me just get this straight, what the occasion was. It was he was going to leave the Philharmonic and there was much speculation as to who was going to replace him.

Speaker So I invented a four part game. There's four games called the Great Conductor Hunt. And the first part was a game in which it's actually quite a quite a good game. It involves letters and moves and making words out of the letters by moving pieces, according to well, I won't go into it.

Speaker But the point was, you graduate from music school and the second second game was called maybe because, I mean, it was three games women.

Speaker It was through the second game was called itinerary. This is where you your audition as a conductor for LENY by following them all over the world. It's a sort of travel game, but the idea of the game was his attention span is very short. So you try to make the shortest possible program of pieces you can get and then you listen to see. And it was all done in cars with pieces like, you know, if you do the Mollari, that takes a day and a half. I mean, it's stuff like that. And and it's always a game of following and trying to trap Lenny in a hotel room around the world and make him listen to you conduct. And the third game was a gigantic three dimensional Lucite maze of that supposedly represented Philharmonic Hall in which you try to corner Lenny and just find him there. And he is constantly and and you travel around, you keep running into Lenny's friends. And it was all pieces in little passageways, was all it was a maze. In fact, it was with the conductor's podium in the middle. And now in the first game, there were so-called penalty cards. And I thought instead of having actual cards like you have in or not a card, but, you know, you may you may pick a letter from your opponent, you have to give a letter to your point, that kind of thing. Oh, chance cards. That would happen every now and then by the throw of the dice. And I thought instead of printing them out, you know, like you do a monopoly, I would have Helen Koch read them. Now, I don't know if your listeners know who Helen Koch is, OK? And so I got Helen cause to read it, her dry schoolteacher voice, all these things. You may take a letter from your poet Lenny. And I made each one kind of personal. I think I said, Lenny will such and such and such. You may have to take a letter from your left hand opponent or Lenny will not do that, such and such, or Lenny is too busy to see you give whatever it was. I can't remember because it wasn't about seeing Lenny was about graduating from school. But those cards were read by Helen Coso every time. So it was on, I put it on on an acetate. And so every time the dye would require a card to be turned up, you just put it on the next groove and find out whether you got a letter or lost. The letter was Helen. She was completely baffled, but all she knew was that it was a part of Lenny's 15th birthday present. And so as long as that it was part of the present for him, that's all that mattered.

Speaker That is incredibly elaborate.

Speaker Oh, of months. A couple of months. But, you know, I would rather invent games and write puzzles and invent crossword puzzles and write anything as long as I can tell you. Oh, no, it took a lot. And it looks like Maze was not cheap. I had to I went downtown and got it made by firm down there. But I spent a lot of time because the problem with the maze is once you solve it, you know how to do it. So I worked it out so that every game was different by putting a little blocked pieces in various parts of the maze so you could never play the same way twice. And but that one was it was fun money, love games, as you know.

Speaker And the children still I mean, they have this game, curiously enough, it's been lost.

Speaker Yes, I have I have itinerary and I have the first game, which is called diploma, but the maze got lost somewhere between the time they moved from the Park Avenue apartment to the Dakota. Somewhere in there.

Speaker I know it's sitting in some warehouse someplace, wherever the artifacts are. It's very large. It's about like that. And I'm I have the pieces, but not the maze. And I don't know who to ask to find it. I know it's there. And I even had to put in a wrapper like that, only made of silver foil. And so it's it's hard to miss but had a good time inventing that.

Speaker Is there anything that you would like to say that I haven't asked?

Speaker No, except that one of the qualities about Lenny, which everybody knows and when I think, you know, I was just free associating, I was thinking, all right, Lenny, what's the first thing that comes to mind? And the first thing comes to mind is how much larger than life he was.

Speaker I've never met anybody quite. I've met larger than life people not, and it has to do with that exuberance and that energy zest. Part of his egoism came from his own zest for himself, but it was zest. It was all it was all he was a very positive energy, I think, and yet he was full of negative things and full of jealousies and pettiness and that sort of stuff, you know, all of us. But the general quality, when I think of what he is largeness and for a short man who was so concerned about as short as he never struck me as short.

Stephen Sondheim
Interview Date:
1998-02-26
Runtime:
1:24:39
Keywords:
None
American Archive of Public Broadcasting GUID:
cpb-aacip-504-mg7fq9qw0t, cpb-aacip-504-9s1kh0fh2t, cpb-aacip-504-f18sb3xh52, cpb-aacip-504-9w08w38n98
MLA CITATIONS:
"Stephen Sondheim, Leonard Bernstein: Reaching for the Note." American Masters Digital Archive (WNET). 26 Feb. 1998, https://www.pbs.org/wnet/americanmasters/archive/interviews/1102
APA CITATIONS:
(1998, February 26). Stephen Sondheim, Leonard Bernstein: Reaching for the Note. [Video]. American Masters Digital Archive (WNET). https://www.pbs.org/wnet/americanmasters/archive/interviews/1102
CHICAGO CITATIONS:
"Stephen Sondheim, Leonard Bernstein: Reaching for the Note." American Masters Digital Archive (WNET). February 26, 1998. Accessed July 06, 2022 https://www.pbs.org/wnet/americanmasters/archive/interviews/1102

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