What I really do for a living

west-side-storyThis spring I am lucky enough to be music directing West Side Story. If I were to take away the pillars of American Musical Theater from this book: Jerome Robbins, Leonard Bernstein, Arthur Laurents and an apprenticing Stephen Sondheim (if one can even imagine that), you’d have just another book musical. But as you know, there’s really no way to do that. One has to acknowledge that West Side Story is simply one of those shows that is a cornerstone of American Musical Theater. Show Boat introduces to the world what a book musical could be, Oklahoma establishes that choreography is as compelling as the music and acting, and then there is West Side Story. The sun sets on this chapter of the history of the book musical as the curtain opens for West Side Story, which is considered by some a culmination of the highest artistic achievement from each structural component of a musical…

And this spring, I get to conduct the damn thing…

I want to share my thoughts and experiences during the journey of this behemoth of a project. One observation I can begin with is that for the book’s sheer artistry the music is astonishingly straightforward and indeed doable. I am sharing with you at the point in the production after our sitzprobe, which on most accounts was a success. This music to me seems to fit or locks in a way other shows I have conducted in the past have not accomplished.

One final thought: maybe the ideal examples of this art form are the most simple in their construction and presentation. Don’t get me wrong; this book is not for the faint of heart! There are passages in this score that will continue to elude me for quite some time. However, in its complexity, there is a simple beauty that the authors must have foreseen in those first days when choreographer, composer, lyricist and playwright came together and decided to create this masterpiece. I think most of us can say, we are all better for it because of their ideas and the creative spirit.

WSS Directors

Creative Team of West Side Story. The ‘giants’: Harold Prince, Jerome Robbins, Stephen Sondheim, Leonard Bernstein, Arthur Laurents

Again – this is the beginning, sort of. I decided to start this chronology at the point in the journey when instrumentalists and singers/actors came together. Tonight’s rehearsal adds the choreography with the show, which for some IS the sheer genius of this work. A colleague told me once – think of a musical as a wheel. There are several cogs in the wheel that enable the wheel to turn. Music is just one cog…

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