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Five Things You Never Knew about West Side Story

Geoffrey Block, Distinguished Professor of Music History at the University of Puget Sound, is the author of Enchanted Evenings: The Broadway Musical From Show Boat to Sondheim and Lloyd 9780195384000Webber.  The book offers theater lovers an illuminating behind-the-scenes tour of some of America’s best loved, most admired, and most enduring musicals, as well as a riveting history.  In the original post below we learn five new things about West Side Story.

1. Did you know that choreographer Jerome Robbins insisted on making the Jets snap their thumbs against their index fingers instead of their middle fingers? Try it, it’s much harder. That’s the point. Robbins wanted to make the Jets stand out from other finger snapper.

2. Did you know that in Arthur Laurents first two libretto drafts Maria kills herself with dressmaking shears. Starting with the third draft, five more drafts, and the final draft, a mortally wounded Tony finds Maria alive, and the lovers are able to share a few final moments together.

3. Did you know that some of the great tunes in West Side Story contain recognizable connections with famous classical melodies? My favorites are the allusions to Tchaikovsky’s Romeo and Juliet and the theme Wagner created to depict the Redemption through Love in his Ring cycle, since in these cases Bernstein’s references are so interesting dramatically as well as musically.

4. Did you know that Sondheim was originally listed as a co-lyricist with Leonard Bernstein? When the early reviews ignored Sondheim’s contribution, Bernstein offered the Broadway newcomer sole lyricist billing and the royalty split that went with it. In an unthinking moment he would always regret Sondheim replied, “Don’t be silly. I don’t care about the money,” and turned down the opportunity to split the 4% lyric royalties. Instead of receiving 2% of the lyric royalties, Sondheim thus retained his original 1%.

5. Did you know that the film soundtrack of West Side Story was the Number 1 best selling album of 1962 from May 5 to June 16 and again for the week of October 6-13?

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