A series by Liam Nolan
All sorts of delays beset the getting of Jerome Robbins’s proposal of a contemporary musical version of Shakespeare’s Romeo and Juliet onto the stage.
The initial working title for the show was East Side Story. The delays were primarily caused by disagreements, difficulties over language, fallings-out, walk-outs, bitter differences of opinion, the clashing of giant egos, failures to get producers interested in putting up the money, and being told the whole thing was an impossible project.
Who, they were asked, wanted to see a show in which the first-act curtain comes down on two dead bodies lying on the stage?
There was, too, “the very tough problem of casting it,” composer Leonard Bernstein said, “because the characters had to be able not only to sing but dance and act, and be taken for teenagers… Some were wonderful singers but couldn’t dance very well, or vice versa… and if they could do both, they couldn’t act.”
Bernstein, as well as being a classically trained composer, was an acclaimed concert pianist, a highly respected conductor, music director of New York Philharmonic, lecturer, and lyricist. He had a strong affinity with life in New York.