Sections: Birth of a Musical | On “The Rumble” and “Somewhere” | Letters from Bernstein | The Legacy of West Side Story

The creators of West Side Story spent close to two years writing and refining the script and score for the show, as well as arranging for producers and financial backing, before they were able to realize the show they had envisioned.  Suddenly theaters had to be booked; performers needed to be auditioned, selected, and rehearsed; sets had to be designed and built; songs needed to be orchestrated. Through all of this, the show itself continued to change and evolve.  Songs were modified or cut, and new songs written.  Robbins’s choreography was influenced by the dancers, which affected the dance music that Bernstein composed and the sets that Oliver Smith created.  The following items, related to “The Rumble” and “Somewhere” segments of the show, offer an unusual glimpse into this frenetic period of creativity, excitement, and panic.

Choreographic Notes and Musical Sketch for “The Rumble”

The choreographic notes by Jerome Robbins found with Leonard Bernstein’s musical sketches for “The Rumble” sequence presumably informed Bernstein’s compositional process. Robbins’s notes include a hastily scribbled set design. Bernstein’s musical sketch for a section he titles “cat-play” most likely takes its name from a description by Robbins. The music includes fugue-like sections where musical phrases echo each other in a round-like effect; also included are instrumentation notes suggesting that the rhythm section use wood block, cymbal, and tenor drum.

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  • Jerome Robbins.  Notes, 1957. Leonard Bernstein Collection, Music Division, Library of Congress (8) Used by permission of The Robbins Rights Trust

  • Leonard Bernstein.  Music and holograph manuscripts, 1957.  Leonard Bernstein Collection, Music Division, Library of Congress (9) By permission of The Leonard Bernstein Office, Inc.

Set Design for “The Rumble”

The sets for West Side Story were designed by Oliver Smith (1918–1994), one of America’s most distinguished and prolific set designers. Smith drew upon local New York architecture and textures to create the urban settings for his award-winning sets.  In this final version for “The Rumble” backdrop, his abstracted depiction of the underside of the Manhattan Bridge as seen from the Brooklyn side, juxtaposed with an ominous sky establishes the grim environment for this famous scene. The arched overpass in Smith’s sketch also appears in Robbins’s choreographic notes.

 

Oliver Smith. Backdrop elevation for “The Rumble,” 1957. Watercolor and gouache. Leonard Bernstein Collection, Music Division, Library of Congress (10) Courtesy of Rosaria Sinisi, Copyright Holder, Oliver Smith’s Designs

Synopsis and Choreographic Notes for “Somewhere” Ballet

Shown here is the first page of a richly detailed three-page description of the “Somewhere” ballet. The description conveys the physical scene, aspects of the choreography, and the thoughts and feelings of the characters. Although Arthur Laurents is credited with writing the scenario that Jerome Robbins drew from to choreograph the ballet, Laurents suspects this particular description was written by Robbins. Both the synopsis and the choreographic notes in Robbins’s hand were found with Leonard Bernstein’s musical sketches for the sequence.

 

 

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  • Typescript and Robbins’s notes, ca. 1957. Leonard Bernstein Collection, Music Division, Library of Congress  (11) Used by permission of The Leonard Bernstein Office, Inc. and The Robbins Rights Trust

  • Typescript and Robbins’s notes, ca. 1957. Leonard Bernstein Collection, Music Division, Library of Congress  (12) Used by permission of The Leonard Bernstein Office, Inc. and The Robbins Rights Trust

“Somewhere” Music Manuscript

This is Leonard Bernstein’s fair copy piano-vocal score for the anthem-like “Somewhere.” This manuscript copy includes an optional second voice to sing in counterpoint and a more richly textured accompaniment than was ultimately used in the show. A fair copy is a version of a score that is copied neatly to be legible and free from corrections.

 

Leonard Bernstein. Holograph music manuscript for “Somewhere,” ca. 1957. Leonard Bernstein Collection, Music Division, Library of Congress (14) By permission of The Leonard Bernstein Office, Inc.

Set Design for the “Somewhere” Ballet

In this preliminary study for the backdrop of the “Somewhere” ballet sequence, Oliver Smith, one of America’s most distinguished and prolific set designers, depicts a landscape with kites with the New York skyline in the distant horizon.  On the back of the sketch, Smith writes, “More painterly quality/Less abstract.”  Ironically, in his final version of the backdrop, which is much more abstract, Smith eliminated the kites.

Oliver Smith. Preliminary design for the “Somewhere Ballet” backdrop, 1957. Watercolor and gouache. Leonard Bernstein Collection, Music Division, Library of Congress (15) Courtesy of Rosaria Sinisi, Copyright Holder, Oliver Smith’s Designs

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Sections: Birth of a Musical | On “The Rumble” and “Somewhere” | Letters from Bernstein | The Legacy of West Side Story