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Celebrity Attractions brings 2012-13 season to a close with 'West Side Story'

David Saint, a protege of original “West Side Story” director Arthur Laurents, helmed the national touring production that comes to Oklahoma City this week.
BY RICK ROGERS rrogers@opubco.com Published: April 21, 2013

“What we really did stylistically with ‘West Side Story' was take every musical theatre technique as far as it could be taken,” Laurents wrote in his autobiography. “Scene, song and dance were integrated seamlessly; we did it all better than anyone ever had before. We were not the innovators we were called but what we did achieve was more than enough to be proud of.”

Given the yearnings of people discovering love for the first time, productions of “West Side Story” tend to be cast with young actors. And while that's prudent from the standpoint that Tony and Maria should appear youthful, the show's musical and dramatic challenges are enormously demanding for young performers.

“For a lot of the actors in this touring production, it's the first real role they've played professionally,” Saint said. “And while a lot of these kids have been dancing since they were 4-years-old, most haven't spent nearly as much time acting.

“But since they were open and willing to learn, a director could teach them good habits and give them a way in that was honest and truthful. It not just about glitzy song and dance stuff; the story has to have a real truth to it.”

The outspoken Laurents could be difficult to work with and was never shy about expressing his views, much to the chagrin of actors. And while Saint said his agent warned him about working with the highly opinionated Laurents, the two associates developed a mutual respect for each other.

“If you know what you're doing and you have respect for people you work with, they won't be difficult,” Saint said. “I found Arthur to be one of the smartest people in the business I knew. He was incredibly honest. People are often worried about saying what they feel but Arthur never did. It was always about the work. I found his notes and insights incredibly helpful.

“I didn't take bits of wisdom from working with Arthur; I took huge chunks. I still hear him in my head a lot. He told me that honesty is incredibly intimidating because most people aren't completely honest. That kind of persistence with the truth was Arthur's hallmark.”