Stephen Sondheim on a 21st century “West Side Story” – 60 Minutes – CBS News

steven sondheim

“West Side Story” returns to Broadway this week in a drastic new incarnation of the classic musical by Jerome Robbins, Leonard Bernstein, Arthur Laurents and Stephen Sondheim.

“Although the material is horrifying, the workmanship is admirable,” wrote Brooks Atkinson in his 1957 New York Times review of the original musical.

Sixty-two years ago, “West Side Story” performed for 732 Broadway audiences and introduced the world to Stephen Sondheim. Then a 27-year-old composer and lyricist, Sondheim says he was trying to mimic the success of his mentor Oscar Hammerstein.

“The lyrics, by Stephen Sondheim, have simple grace, and there is a lovely tribute by the sidewalk Romeo to his dusky girl, Maria,” wrote John Chapman, in his 1957 review for the New York Daily News.

Sondheim is again involved in the Broadway production collaborating with a pair of Tony Award winners in director Ivo van Hove and producer Scott Rudin.

This week on 60 Minutes, correspondent Bill Whitaker peeled back the curtain to reveal what van Hove describes as “West Side Story” for 21st Century.

“‘West Side Story’ was huge when we were young,” van Hove told 60 Minutes. “So we respect at an enormous level what has been done before us, but it’s 60 years later now and– perhaps it’s also good to have another take on it with all this respect that we have for the work and for the people that have made it before us. And that they leave us with this fabulous material to work with.”

The 2020 revival is radically different from any other production of “West Side Story.” Robbins’ original choreography is gone and so is the classic set, replaced by modern moves and a 25-camera video production projected behind the actors on stage.

The changes were approved by Sondheim and the estates of the play’s other creators.

“What keeps the theater alive is reinterpretation,” said Sondheim. “The thing that essentially is different between let’s say theater and movies or television is that it’s changeable. Each generation brings new ways of looking at a play.”

 

What remains virtually untouched is the music originally written and composed by Sondheim and Leonard Bernstein. Music that was immortalized in the 1961 Hollywood production, which Sondheim credits for its longevity.

“It’s endured I think because the movie made it popular.” Sondheim said. “The movie was a huge hit and suddenly everybody thought the tunes were hummable.”

“West Side Story” is slated for a double-revival in 2020. The musical is scheduled to open Thursday at The Broadway Theatre in New York. It is expected to return to the Silver Screen in December under the direction of Steven Spielberg

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