I visit Leonard Bernstein’s grave at Greenwood Cemetery with some regularity, so I should know when the venerable conductor-composer is rolling around in there. But don’t take my word for it: take that of Paul Woodiel, a violinist who played for the Maestro’s orchestra in the 80s.
Woodiel published an op-ed in Sunday’s Times, announcing that Arthur Laurent’s generally well-reviewed revival of West Side Story, playing at the Palace, would soon lose half of its string section. Worst of all, they would be replaced by, ew, synthesizers.
Some shows need orchestras and violins; others don’t. But West Side Story is one of those shows that does. The show is inseparable from its lush, sophisticated orchestration. So here’s my proposition: if the show is no longer profitable, the producers should simply close it with its dignity intact. Doing so might put me out of work, but it would honor (rather than demean) the legacy of Bernstein’s crown jewel. (emphasis mine)
The city that was tripping over itself to celebrate Bernstein’s 90th birthday just two years ago is now silently denigrating him on Broadway.
Of course, who’s going to hear a difference? As Woodiel writes, “if you happen to be listening, as Lenny would have suggested you do, you will notice.” But that’s a pretty big “if”. Audiences today never listen, and maybe they deserve the skeletal section they hear.