© 2024 South Carolina Public Radio
Play Live Radio
Next Up:
0:00
0:00
0:00 0:00
Available On Air Stations

Musical Theater Playwright Arthur Laurents Dies

MELISSA BLOCK, Host:

NPR's Elizabeth Blair has this appreciation.

ELIZABETH BLAIR: Unidentified Group (Actors): (as characters) (Singing) The Jets are gonna have their day tonight. The Sharks are gonna have their way tonight.

(SOUNDBITE OF MUSICAL, "WEST SIDE STORY")

BLAIR: Audiences flocked to "West Side Story." One critic called it revolutionary for the way it addressed racial tensions. In an interview with NPR, Arthur Laurents said because you couldn't say four-letter words on stage back in 1950s, he invented tough-sounding slang for his teenagers.

(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED AUDIO)

ARTHUR LAURENTS: So I have them say things like cut the frabba-jabba. Well, it sounds like, you know, real talk. Things like daddio, which I threw in, they picked up on.

BLAIR: "West Side Story" is considered one of the greatest musicals of all time, as is another Broadway musical for which Arthur Laurents wrote the book, based on the memoirs of the stripper Gypsy Rose Lee. In "Gypsy," Laurents created the character Momma Rose, a stage mother from hell.

(SOUNDBITE OF MUSICAL, "GYPSY")

BLOCK: (as Momma Rose) Well, she's nothing without me. I'm her mother and I made her. And I can make you now.

BLAIR: Complex and grand is how New York Times critic Ben Brantley described Momma Rose. Arthur Laurents was known for writing stories that examined the extremes of human nature. In the 1940s, he started writing for Hollywood, but his movie career was suspended when he was blacklisted. Several years later, the experience inspired his screenplay for "The Way We Were," starring Barbra Streisand and Robert Redford.

(SOUNDBITE OF MOVIE, "THE WAY WE WERE")

ROBERT REDFORD: (as Hubbell Gardiner) ... rights. We don't have free speech in this country. We never will have.

BARBRA STREISAND: (as Katie Morosky) We never will if people aren't willing to take a stand for what's right.

REDFORD: (as Hubbell Gardiner) We never will have it because people are scared.

BLAIR: Unidentified Man (Actor): (as Tony) (Singing) Make of our vows, one last vow.

(SOUNDBITE OF MUSICAL, "WEST SIDE STORY")

BLAIR: Leonard Bernstein, Jerome Robbins, Steven Sondheim and Arthur Laurents created "West Side Story" together in the late 1950s. Arthur Laurents told NPR they shared something unique.

(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED AUDIO)

LAURENTS: Unidentified Man and Woman #2: (as Tony and Maria) (Singing) ...one heart. Even death won't part us now.

(SOUNDBITE OF MUSICAL, "WEST SIDE STORY")

BLAIR: Elizabeth Blair, NPR News. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

NPR transcripts are created on a rush deadline by an NPR contractor. This text may not be in its final form and may be updated or revised in the future. Accuracy and availability may vary. The authoritative record of NPR’s programming is the audio record.

Elizabeth Blair is a Peabody Award-winning senior producer/reporter on the Arts Desk of NPR News.