West Side Story

Lauren Bacall

Memorials have become big business. Major showbiz figure dies, and his friends and family book the Imperial Theater on a Monday afternoon and there are reminiscences by his celebrity friends and film clips of his work, and telegrams from Mayor Koch. Though you’re aware this is a Solemn Occasion, there is, nonetheless, a sense that you’re going to a Special Event, and a kind of party atmosphere prevails. If open to the public, the crowds begin standing in line at eight AM for a two o’clock event. Because…Liza Minnelli might be there! Or Lauren Bacall! The famous folk onstage approach the podium with varying degrees of humility. At Larry Kert’s send-off, there was a six page printed program replete with black-bordered ads from various sources, including the Lighting Company that handled West Side Story. Arthur Laurents comes out and introduces himself and there is applause from the show-wise audience that knows he wrote the book to West Side (and Gypsy). 

Leonard BernsteinThere are photos projected of the shows, each featuring the deceased. At Leonard Bernstein’s memorial Adolph Green told a charming story: he first met Lenny at a summer camp in the Poconos. Lenny whipped off a piece at the piano that he said was a rare Mozart minuet; had Adolph ever heard it? No, said Adolph, I never did. Lenny clapped him on the back -“Good for you! All these other phonies tell me, Oh sure, that’s the famous Minuet in G! Well, I wrote it myself!” At Cy Feuer’s memorial, his son, Jed, put together a band that played a medley from his father’s shows: Where’s Charley, Guys ‘n Dolls, Silk Stockings. And afterwards (and often during), all the showbiz Wannabees head straight for the celeb that can do them some good:

Last Sunday I went to a memorial on a smaller scale. It was held at the Unity Church on West 58th st. The room holds maybe one hundred people. My friend Paul Trueblood, a pianist/accompanist was the honoree. I’d worked with him early in both our careers when he accompanied the shows at The Upstairs at the Downstairs, the sleek, racy revues that Julius Monk presented in the nineteen-sixties. Some of Paul’s arrangements were played over the sound system, and some -for duo pianos- were accompanied by one of Paul’s musical associates, Dennis Buck. We heard Fascinating Rhythm (the Gershwins), I Love a Piano (Irving Berlin) and a song from On the Town (Bernstein-Comden & Green). Paul’s style delighted us -he had learned his lesson from Julius Monk: you needed to lay back and let the singer predominate, for most of Julius’ numbers were comedy songs. You needed to be able to follow the dynamic of the song, when to press forward, when to retire…and, finally, you had to develop a gloss and sheen to your playing that matched the imagination of the tune. Paul was able to do all this, and I thought of the other marvelous pianists who’d been nurtured at the Upstairs: Gordon Connell, Bob Colston and…most glittering of all..Billy Roy, who now, in death, has decided he wants to be called William Roy.