The money owing: producing West Side Story 

The New York Public Library for the Performing Arts

How one of the most exciting Broadway shows almost didn't make it. 

Cheryl Crawford
Cheryl Crawford was a producer of many ground-breaking new plays and musicals. Together with Elia Kazan and Robert Lewis she founded The Actors Studio in 1947 and the American Repertory Theatre with Eva le Galliene. She had earned a reputation for producing risky and ground-breaking work, some of which went on to become hits on Broadway (including Awake and Sing, Brigadoon, and Porgy and Bess). 

Cheryl Crawford joined with her producing partner Roger Stevens to produce West Side Story after almost every other producer turned it down.

Although Crawford consistently praised the music. She had doubts about Arthur Laurents's script.

Crawford sought advice from others, including director and friend Elia Kazan.

In 1957, Crawford wrote a letter to Laurents suggesting major revisions.

Laurents refused to make most of the changes. Only a few weeks before rehearsal were to begin, Crawford withdrew from the team.

Although Roger Stevens initially agreed with Crawford about the problems, he remained a part of the production team to help with pre-production costs. But Stevens' generosity was not enough to keep the musical on track in the coming weeks.

At the same time, Sondheim’s close friend, a young producer named Harold Prince, was in Boston at the out-of-town tryouts of his latest production, New Girl in Town .

Prince and Sondheim would often compare notes on their current shows. On one phone call, Prince complained about problems in out-of-town previews with his current show, New Girl in Town. Sondheim mentioned losing the producer for West Side Story.

Harold Prince & Robert Griffith
Shortly after his call with Sondheim, Prince spoke to his producing partner, Robert Griffith. After hearing the score, Prince and Griffiths were on board to produce West Side Story. Within a week, the new producers raised the $300,000 capital for the production.

The show went into production as scheduled. Since then, it has become one of the most recognizable musicals worldwide.

Credits: Story

Curated by Misy Singson.
Photographs by: Friedman-Abeles, Robert H. Phillips, Martha Swope & Florence Vandamm.

Credits: All media
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