Arthur Laurents Extended

Charles Kaiser and Arthur Laurents continue their conversation.

BY Advocate.com Editors

May 10 2009 11:00 PM ET

Or hope.Matt Cavenaugh is absolutely straight. And I love him. I really love him. He's a lovely guy. I had to unlock him. You know he comes from Arkansas and he's really basically very conventional. And I had to get him to break through himself. And I do love him.

They do all seem to love you.That happens with any company that I direct, because I do love them. And they know I will do anything for them that I can.

All right, you're 91 years old. You don't seem any different to me than the day I met you (in 1995). Give me a typical day. What time do you get up in the morning?Not early. When I'm in Quogue I get up 8:30ish. There is one thing I've done every morning for 30 years. I do floor exercises. Nine minutes by the digital clock. You lie on your back, put your knees up, and you lift your pelvis. Slowly. Not too high. So I do that 30 times. Then I do sit-ups. Then I do push-ups. I since added things to stretch the hamstrings. I ski in the winter and I swim all summer, so what more do I need.

Anyway, it gets down to why am I ninety-one, and not crawling.

What do you know about directing now that you didn't know 30 years ago?A lot. Nobody ever directed a musical the way I directed Gypsy . It's because I didn't have any money. And they were only going to give me two weeks of rehearsal before opening at City Center. So I bargained for three by saying I was only going to use four principals. But I managed to wrangle nine. I really only did it because Tom told me because he didn't like the previous one. He said you can't leave New York with that taste. And only you can do it. And for another reason -- I didn't know it but he knew. He was going to die and he wanted me to be busy. So I had nine actors. I couldn't stage one scene with them, because there was always somebody missing. So we sat around the table, the way you do with a play, and began examining the play, including the lyrics. That suddenly brought out things in Gypsy that I wrote and I hadn't known were there. And it's a totally different approach. The same thing is true of West Side . The world has changed certainly since the late '50s. But the theatre has changed more. Things you did in musicals in the late '50s you can't do today. In Gypsy and in West Side Story there are numbers that are put in to jazz up the audience and stop the show. They have nothing to do with it. Like "Krupke" in West Side. Like in Gypsy , "Gimmick" and "Together", which is the stars having a good time. "If Mama Gets Married" is a lovely song, but what's the point? These two girls who don't know each other are suddenly going into a mad Viennese Waltz. So that pushed me to get those into the show. Well what it basically is -- musicals had always been about singing and dancing -- never about acting. With both this Gypsy and this West Side Story , the most important element is acting. Well you never had that before. And it made it very exciting for me, and for the company. Because there was no chorus, no ensemble anymore. I said to all these kids, even if you have no line, you have to know who you are. Actually, I had done that before when I directed La Cage . There are all these so-called Cagelles. I want every one of you to know why you are in a drag company on the Riviera. And it pays off. It really pays off. Because they enjoy what they're doing.

How much did you change the book in West Side ?I had invented this language, which was OK in 1957. In 2009 it's a little forced, a little cute. So I had to trim it. Also, the characters in Gypsy are much richer than they are in West Side. They're not written with much depth in West Side , because it was really all about the music and dance. In the rumble, Tony, our hero is pushed around, and he has nothing to say. So he comes out weak. So I thought, 'Well, I have to do something about that.' First of all I changed the way it was acted, but I gave him three words that made an enormous difference. When they're pushing him around, Riff starts to intervene but Tony says, 'I'll handle this.' That makes him in command. He knows what he's doing, and he's the leader, not just some pretty little boy. Matt responded to all that.

The funny part of it is, you don't know all the people who said, 'You can't change it: leave it the way it is.' Until now they were always doing a replica of the original scenery. This time it's all new. Jim Youmans-oh he's wonderful. When that highway comes out, the audience applauds. I kept working on it, up to the last minute. It's very delicate when you get a piece of Americana.

Because everyone has a huge personal investment in it -- in my case, since the age of six.

And they all think they saw what they didn't. One guy came up to me and said, 'Why'd you take the four letter words out.' 'They were never in.' "'Yes they were, I saw it.'

They never were.

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