Broadway Playwright Arthur Laurents Dies At 93

Playwright Arthur Laurents (center) is shown with collaborators Richard Rodgers (seated) and Stephen Sondheim as they begin work on the new musical Do I Hear a Waltz? in New York City in December 1964. Laurents died on Thursday at age 93. i i

Playwright Arthur Laurents (center) is shown with collaborators Richard Rodgers (seated) and Stephen Sondheim as they begin work on the new musical Do I Hear a Waltz? in New York City in December 1964. Laurents died on Thursday at age 93. AP hide caption

itoggle caption AP
Playwright Arthur Laurents (center) is shown with collaborators Richard Rodgers (seated) and Stephen Sondheim as they begin work on the new musical Do I Hear a Waltz? in New York City in December 1964. Laurents died on Thursday at age 93.

Playwright Arthur Laurents (center) is shown with collaborators Richard Rodgers (seated) and Stephen Sondheim as they begin work on the new musical Do I Hear a Waltz? in New York City in December 1964. Laurents died on Thursday at age 93.

AP

Playwright Arthur Laurents, best known for writing the books for the landmark Broadway musicals Gypsy and West Side Story, died Thursday at age 93.

Laurents started his career in radio and later wrote Hollywood film scripts. But his big career break came on the Broadway stage in the late 1950s, when both Gypsy and West Side Story premiered. Laurents wrote the script for both musicals and later directed two revivals of Gypsy, with Angela Lansbury and Tyne Daly in the title role.

In 1990, Laurents joined Terry Gross for a conversation about his career, which also included writing credits for The Way We Were, Rope, and The Turning Point, and about collaborating with Jerome Robbins and Stephen Sondheim on several Broadway musicals.


Interview Highlights

On Ethel Merman in Gypsy

"I'm very grateful to Merman because I don't think they would have done the show without her, even though she was on the skids, as it were, at that time. She had had a flop or two. ... She did us a great service and for that time, she was terrific, but it was never what I thought the performance should be."

On directing Angela Lansbury in Gypsy

"She's a very fine actress. ... The emphasis [in the revival] was more on the comedic quality and she's a really terrific comedienne. Rose was quite a reach for her. There's an earthiness, a trashiness about Rose that's very difficult for Angela to get. But in her own terms, she was terrific."

On collaborating with Stephen Sondheim

"Steve is wonderful to collaborate with and he thinks I am, because I say, 'Go ahead, raid the dialogue.' For example, the first line of Mr. Goldstone — 'Have an egg roll, Mr. Goldstone — was taken from the dialogue. But he means really more than that. He is one of the few, too few, lyricists who knows that each character speaks differently and sings differently. They have a different diction. So he waited, in the case of Gypsy, so I could write the characters. He would see how they would speak. That affected what lyrics he wrote for them."

On songwriters getting more credit than the librettist

"Every librettist feels that, and it's accurate. No musical is ever referred to as the world of the librettist. It is only referred to in terms of the composer and — if the lyricist is as famous as Stephen Sondheim — the lyricist. I think it goes back to opera where you don't know who wrote the libretto for the opera — you only know the composer.

I think one of the reasons we don't have more and better playwrights writing musicals is that everybody has a need for recognition, which is what Gypsy is really about. It is so frustrating not to get any recognition for what one has done in creating a musical that a lot of playwrights simply won't try ... The reason I do it is I love musical theater and I love writing. ... I'm stuck."

On the original pitch for West Side Story

"The initial idea was quite different. It was about a Jewish girl and a Catholic boy in New York over Easter and Passover. And I wanted no part of it. And then several years passed and I happened to be in California and Lenny Bernstein was in California. By that time, juvenile delinquent gangs had come into being. ... That's where the idea came from — the front page. And then Lenny and I called Jerry and said, 'We're ready to go.' "

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