One of the Broadway musicals that can genuinely claim to have transformed the genre, West Side Story has been featured in many books on Broadway, but it has yet to be the focus of a scholarly monograph. Nigel Simeone begins by exploring the long process of creating West Side Story, including a discussion of Bernstein's sketches, early drafts of the score and script, as well as cut songs.
The core of the book is a commentary on the music itself. West Side Story is one of the very few Broadway musicals for which there is a complete published orchestral score, as well as two different editions of the piano-vocal score. The survival of the original copied orchestral score, and the reminiscences of Sid Ramin and Irwin Kostal, reveal details of the orchestration process, and the extent to which Bernstein was involved in this. Simeone's commentary considers: musical characteristics and compositional techniques used to mirror the drama (for example, the various uses of the tritone), motivic development, the use and reinvention of Broadway and other conventions, the creation of dramatic continuity in the score through the use of motifs and other devices, the unusual degree of dissonance and rhythmic complexity (at least for the time), and the integration of Latin-American dance forms (Mambo, Huapango and so on).
Simeone also considers the reception of West Side Story in the contemporary press. The stir the show caused included the response that it was the angular, edgy score that made it a remarkable achievement. Not all reviews were uncritical. Finally, the book looks in detail at the making of the original Broadway cast recording, made in just one day, included on the accompanying CD.
Reviews: Nigel Simeone's new book, Leonard Bernstein: West Side Story, offers a behind the scenes, intimate and illuminating insight into the genesis and creation of one of America's landmark musical achievements. This is a book that will appeal to the West Side Story enthusiast as well as those curious about the collaborative creative process.
Marin Alsop, Music Director Baltimore Symphony Orchestra
'Musicologists are finding the Broadway musical a rich field for study after long experience writing about more hallowed areas. Nigel Simeone is the latest and one of the most exciting of these, and his West Side Storyis as richly rewarding as his earlier and ongoing work on French music. Because he has researched the show's genesis, history, musical manuscripts, structure, meaning and reception so extensively, probing a great deal further than previous scholarship, and yet writes it all up so simply and approachably, his book will be welcomed equally by scholars, students and general readers devoted (and who isn't?) to this epoch-making show.'
Stephen Banfield, Stanley Hugh Badock Professor of Music, University of Bristol, UK
‘As an aside, let us mention that the original cast album is discussed in detail — along with various stages of the creation of the show … the book includes a full copy of the 1998 remastering of the original Broadway cast album, complete with liner note booklet. We come across so many "new" books about old musicals which seem to recycle what we've already read. This one tells us things we didn't know, which makes for fascinating reading.’
Steven Suskin, on playbill.com
‘… offers a fascinating glimpse into the greatest musical of all, drawing on letters between its creators to put it in context and to show why, half a century on, it endures.’ The Independent
‘Simeone has created an excellent reference for future researchers or musical aficionados in terms of listing sources, collating information, creating an overall sense of order out of the potential chaos of so much diverse material… As a source of information this is wonderful …The appendices, bibliography and discography are extensive and interesting.’ MusicWeb International
‘Simeone’s study is admirable; not only does he trace in some detail the genesis of the show… but he also analyses it musically, with many illustrative examples.… Simeone’s scholarship is skilled; apart from his assiduousness in consulting prime sources at first hand, he has carried out interviews with surviving collaborators and others who were in at the beginning and in doing so he reveals much important and fascinating information for the first time. Those who remember the impact West Side Story made in the late 1950s, and have loved the score ever since – alongside the many who have been drawn to the work in the last half-century – will welcome this book with enthusiasm. I found nothing in it with which to disagree, and I also greatly admire Simeone’s attention to detail. His account of the original cast recording and of Goddard Lieberson’s major role in it is riveting.…an excellent and welcome study of a great work. It is beautifully produced to Ashgate’s customary high standard. This study is just what has been needed for some time and I cannot imagine it being bettered by anyone.’ International Record Review
‘… Nigel Simeone casts a revealing eye on the development of the show. In itself, it's a story full of larger-than-life personalities, creative passions spilling over and the dramatic twists and turns of backstage Broadway life. What results is a book that persuasively argues for West Side Story's place alongside key works by Messiaen, Andriessen and Kurtág in Ashgate's Landmarks in Music Since 1950 series. Going back to original sources – many never before assessed – and with new interviews with surviving participants, Simeone delves deep into both process and product to produce fresh information and new insights. The chapter un-picking and re-threading the score is worth the price of the book alone. Writing with a journalist's flair for storytelling and a scholar's concern for forensic detail, Simeone has produced an immensely readable analysis that immediately estalishes itself as the critical reference point for a work that transformed the sound and, arguably, the point and purpose of the Broadway musical.… The addition of the original Broadway cast recording is a marvellous bonus and an essential companion to this rich, remarkable and altogether recommendable book.’ 5 stars, Classical Music Magazine
‘Quite aside from the depth of the insights made by the author Nigel Simeone on nearly every page, the reason why this book represents a significant new contribution to the literature on the Broadway musical is that it is much more thorough in its discussion of primary resources than almost any other study I can think of. The result is that we gain a completely new understanding of its chosen focus, Bernstein's classic West Side Story. …Overall, the only real criticism one could make of the volume is that it isn't long enough - and that's because one longs for it to go on and on.’ 5 Stars, Musical Criticism.com
‘Given its iconic status, it seems remarkable that West Side Story has largely eluded the gaze of scholars. Nigel Simeone's new book rights that wrong in some style…’ 5 Stars, BBC Music Magazine
‘… Nigel Simeone's new study of West Side Story is a model of how the musical should be written about. … nobody with an interest in the Broadway musical should be without it.’ Music Teacher
‘An invaluable addition to performing-arts collection… Recommended.’ Choice
‘It subjects that quintessentially American form, musical theatre, to the same rigorous analysis that classical music conventionally receives, and does so to great effect. …Nigel Simeone is a graceful and engaging guide to the phenomenon. His admirably brief but comprehensive work explores the nature of genre, the specifics of musical theatre, the financing and construction of a show and most rewardingly, looks at the process of orchestration and close-reads the score. …A final bonus is the original-cast CD included with the book, which brings to life an already vibrantly engaging text.’ Times Literary Supplement
‘… [an] engaging, comprehensive and elegantly written text…’ the arts desk
‘… this is an eagerly awaited book that does not disappoint in laying out a general history and analysis of the musical that would be valuable to either the dilettante or the musical theatre scholar. … The inclusion […] of a recording of the work […] solidifies this as a basic primer for one of the most popular of all musicals.’ Studies in Musical Theatre
'The accessibility and wealth of information make Simeone's volume an excellent addition to any library. General readers will not find themselves overwhelmed by theoretical jargon or by overly verbose prose, yet music students and professional researchers will find much that is useful.' Notes
'Simeone has admirably garnered masses of material on West Side Story from its inception in 1949 through the main, if slightly sporadic, work on the show in 1955-7, the tryouts in Washington, DC and Philadelphia, and the not-so-triumphant opening at the Winter Garden Theatre in New York on 26 September 1957, to the cast recording made in a one-day session three days after the premiere (a CD is included in the book). He also interviewed some of the surviving original participants in the show.' Music & Letters