Reading Arthur Laurents’ memoir Mainly On Directing: Gypsy, West Side Story, and Other Musicals reminded me of a quote I once read from Frank Sinatra on filming the original Ocean’s 11 (and I’m paraphrasing here): “If you have half as much fun watching this as we had making it, you’ll enjoy yourself.” Even if you’re not a Broadway fan, reading Laurents’ memoir is a delight, if for no other reason than reading about the life of a man who works hard and enjoys what he does. And considering that he’s still directing and writing new plays as a 91 year old, Laurents has plenty to write about.
We weren’t exactly sure what we were going to get from Laurents, who is famous for his candid comments on just about everyone he’s worked with in the business, but neither Bob nor I were expecting such a quick mind and an open passion for the theater. Laurents started writing initially for radio in the 1940s, then dramas and screenplays (including Hitchcock’s The Rope) before writing his first musical book for West Side Story in 1957. I certainly didn’t know that West Side Story lost the Best Musical Tony that year to The Music Man, and was actually panned by theater critic Walter Kerr in the New York Herald Tribune. But, despite the varying degrees of praise from critics (which is still pretty unbelievable… have you listened to Bernstein’s score recently? If not, you should), the public loved this modern-day Romeo and Juliet story. Arthur Laurents revived West Side Story just last year with a bilingual cast in order to give more equal footing to the Sharks in an otherwise Jet-centric New York City. The revival picked up a Best Actress award for Karen Olivo at this year’s Tony Awards, and has made a star of young Argentine actresses Josefina Scaglione, the “Maria” Laurents discovered on You Tube.
You can hear Scaglione sing Leonard Bernstein’s famous song Tonight here.