Revisiting the West Side

West Side Story is magnificently reborn on Broadway and Charles Kaiser attends, rubbing elbows with theater royalty including writer-director Arthur Laurents, Kathleen Turner, and Lauren Bacall.

BY Charles Kaiser

March 20 2009 12:00 AM ET

KATHLEEN TURENR AND LAUREN BACALL X390 (GETTY) | ADVOCATE.COM

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
West Side

. 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
stands up."

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
you.'"

"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
Daily News

. "I feel so blessed to have worked with Arthur,"
said Holbrook.

Laurents has often said
(correctly) that Bernstein's spectacular score is the best
thing about
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.

"I'm Steve
Sondheim," the man replied.

Tags: Theater

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