The music of ‘West Side Story’ finds its way to the Hollywood Bowl

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It sounded like a great idea. To celebrate the 50th anniversary of the film “West Side Story,” why not put it onscreen at the Hollywood Bowl, then have the Los Angeles Philharmonic right there playing the movie’s score live?

Few films carry a stronger pedigree. The Jets and Sharks burst onto Broadway in 1957, then onto the big screen in 1961. Jerome Robbins and Robert Wise directed Natalie Wood and Richard Beymer as the doomed lovers, and the film won 10 Academy Awards, including best picture. A supporting cast led by Rita Moreno, George Chakiris and Russ Tamblyn sang, danced and fought its way across New York’s Upper West Side to Leonard Bernstein’s extraordinary music, Arthur Laurents’ tender book and Robbins’ incomparable choreography; then-27-year-old Stephen Sondheim crafted the memorable lyrics.


Few Hollywood Bowl projects were so complicated, however. Substantial parts of the film’s score were missing and, until very recently, there was no good way to separate the film’s vocal and orchestral tracks. How would an audience be able to hear the film’s vocals without hearing the filmed orchestra?

The Leonard Bernstein Office, the New York-based organization that is the event’s producer, had to locate the film music, add in improvs and such, then make the score doable by a live orchestra. Skilled sound technicians simultaneously came up with what expert Robert Heiber calls “an audio magic trick of the highest order” to extract all the music from the film’s soundtrack and leave behind the voices.

Mission accomplished. Conductor David Newman leads the L.A. Phil’s live performance on July 8 and 9, kicking off with music to one of the most well-known movie openings in history—“West Side Story’s” singular prologue of finger-snapping New York gang members alternately snarling, dancing and sparring.

You can read more here about “West Side Story” at the Hollywood Bowl.

And continue below to see samples of the score that were used for the project.

--Barbara Isenberg

Above, part of the reduced ‘short score’’ (of ‘The Rumble’) that was used by Johnny Green, the conductor of the original orchestra for the film of ‘West Side Story.’ This score was found in the Robert Wise Collection at the University of Southern California library; it takes all of the musical information and condenses the 36 staffs of the full score to just 4. The short score was the only complete source the Leonard Bernstein Office was able to locate for the restoration, it has much less information than the manuscript full score.


Above, the same page of musical score for the movie ‘West Side Story.’ This page of full orchestration is from the original manuscript score, taken from a partial score that was located in the Sid Ramin archive at Columbia University. (Ramin was one of the orchestrators on both the Broadway show and the film, and also a close friend of Leonard Bernstein from childhood; he received an Oscar for scoring the music for the film along with Green, co-orchestrator Irwin Kostal and music supervisor Saul Chaplin.)