Arthur Laurents: Broadway Powerhouse Remembered

One of the artistic geniuses who helped make Maria and Tony, the Sharks and the Jets and Baby and Mama Rose household names has died after a long, signature career. Arthur Laurents, who directed and wrote some of the most beloved classics of stage and screen was 93. Host Scott Simon talks to Broadway actress Patti LuPone about the passing of the renowned director, playwright and screenwriter.

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SCOTT SIMON, host:

World of theater is also mourning the death of one of its stars today. Arthur Laurents, who helped make Maria and Tony, the Sharks and the Jets, Baby and Mama Rose household names has died after a long signature career. He was 93.

Arthur Laurents was part of the quartet of talents that created "West Side Story," along with Bernstein, Sondheim and Robbins. And just two years later "Gypsy."

SIMON: He also directed revivals of "West Side Story" and "Gypsy" when he was in his 90s.

(Soundbite of music)

Patty LuPone starred in a 2008 revival of Gypsy directed by Art Laurents. She joins us from New York.

Thanks so much for being with us.

Ms. PATTY LUPONE (Actress): Thank you.

SIMON: So what was he like?

Ms. LUPONE: Well, he was a very vibrant, funny, emotional, passionate man.

SIMON: And always easy to work with?

Ms. LUPONE: When I worked with him. I only worked with him on "Gypsy" and he was extremely easy to work with. He loved our company, and - oh, dear, sorry. He loved our company, and it showed. It showed every day in rehearsal, and it showed every time he showed up at the theater once we were in performance.

And we were always thrilled when he came backstage or when he was in the room. It was a joyful, inspiring and lesson-learning time with him.

SIMON: Yeah. How do you think he changed the musical and American theater?

Ms. LUPONE: He was a great playwright, and I think his ideas. He was fearless, and he was associated with other great artists of that, you know, quintessentially American art form, the American musical.

SIMON: Mm-hmm.

Ms. LUPONE: So, you know, the combination of Arthur and Steven and Leonard Bernstein, I mean, how can you beat that?

SIMON: If I might, with respect to a great man, a lot of people said he could just be a little - well, the word that they often use is prickly. He could be prickly.

Ms. LUPONE: Yes, I think it's true. Yeah. I don't think he suffered fools. And I think that he was bluntly honest. And I don't see anything wrong with that. I really don't.

SIMON: Apparently the revival of "Gypsy" in which you starred was intended to be a tribute to Tom Hatcher who was his partner for more than 50 years. What kind of partnership were they?

Ms. LUPONE: Well, I didn't really know Tom. Tom was dying...

SIMON: Yeah.

Ms. LUPONE: ...when we started this. And it was the reason we started this. Tom apparently said to Arthur, you have to do "Gypsy" with Patti. And he didn't say it because he wanted me to play the character of Rose, he said it because he wanted to keep Arthur alive. And what was on the horizon for Arthur was a production of "Gypsy."

SIMON: What do you think Arthur Laurents will mean in American theater history?

Ms. LUPONE: You know, an era has passed. He'll be considered one of the greats for sure.

SIMON: Patti LuPone, who worked with Arthur Laurents in the Broadway musical, "Gypsy." Arthur Laurents died Thursday at the age of 93.

Ms. LuPone, thanks so much for being with us.

Ms. LUPONE: My pleasure. Thank you for including me.

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