Revisiting the West Side
BY Charles Kaiser
March 20 2009 12:00 AM ET
The Palace was packed
on Thursday night with Broadway royalty, including Mike
Nichols, Lauren Bacall, Elaine May, and Carol Lawrence, who
created the role of Maria in the original
. At a lavish opening-night party afterward at the Chelsea
Piers, Kathleen Turner, who had been in the eighth row of the
theater, told me, "I liked it very much. This book really
Cast members competed
with one another in their praise of the nonagenarian who is the
driving force behind the show. "Arthur Laurents is just
full of love," said Cody Green, who gives a splendid
performance as Riff. "When I tried to write my opening
card for him, all I could come up with was, 'I love
"He gives us so
much energy and he's so full of life," said Curtis
Holbrook, whose character Action turns the song "Gee,
Officer Krupke" into "a marathon of felonious
mugging," according to the New York
. "I feel so blessed to have worked with Arthur,"
Laurents has often said
(correctly) that Bernstein's spectacular score is the best
West Side Story
. But it is the author of the book who has always been its
engine. In his memoir, the actor Alan Helms remembered
proclaiming at a Manhattan party shortly after the original
production opened that Stephen Sondheim obviously deserved most
of the credit for this Broadway musical.
"A man tapped me
on the shoulder and said, 'You're wrong,'"
Helms remembered. "'The man who deserves most credit
is Arthur Laurents.'"
"How would you
know?" Helms asked the stranger.
Sondheim," the man replied.