West Side Story / My Story

There are few for me, if any, more enduring – and endlessly endearing – works of music than “West Side Story.” My history with this music dates back more than fifty years, to a time for which I will always be grateful, when my sisters, Bonne and Barbara, kept our home alive with music. Whether they were spinning 45s, or rehearsing for roles in high-school musicals, or practicing piano and singing, they were, and so shall always be, central and key to my appreciation and love of music. It was in this setting that I was exposed to “West Side Story,” first by way of the Broadway soundtrack, and then by the magnificent film adaptation by Robert Wise and Jerome Robbins. The music, and the famous re-telling of “Romeo and Juliet,” have always resonated with me.

And so it was that today Marie and I saw the San Francisco Symphony, under the direction of Michael Tilson Thomas, with soloists and chorus, perform the timeless score composed by Leonard Bernstein and Stephen Sondheim. That Michael Tilson Thomas was a friend and protégé of Bernstein’s carries huge weight and significance in this endeavor, and that connection was in full evidence throughout the brilliant, breathtaking, and soaring celebration of  this work by MTT and the entire assemblage. It was exciting, and uplifting, and heartbreaking.

So this is my long way of saying Thanks to my sisters for their inspiration, and for helping to foster the love of music in our home – you were on my mind as the classic strains, and tale of Tony and Maria, unfolded…

West Side Story has always been close to my heart. My favorite role to this day remains Maria. I met my ex-husband, with whom I stayed close, when I played Maria and he played Riff. He is gone now, but I know he was with me when I came full circle recently and directed a middle school production of it. Even more special, our Riff in this production is the grandson of the original film’s Riff, Russ Tamblyn. Mr. Tamblyn came to the production, even watched three shows in one day in support of both casts and made himself available to the kids for a question and answer period. The music of this show is heart-wrenching, heart-breaking, haunting, ecstatic, tragic, joyful–everything that love can be. With apologies to Mr. Prokofiev, I don’t think there has ever been or ever will be music that so well expresses this greatest love story of all time. Wish I’d been there, Steve. I’m sure it was transcendent.