Remembering Bernstein

Carol Lawrence, West Side Story’s First “Maria,” Remembers Leonard Bernstein

Long before she became a Broadway legend and television icon (with her own star on the Hollywood Walk of Fame), Carol Lawrence was a young singer, auditioning for the role of “Maria” in a new musical by “the charming beyond words” Leonard Bernstein.

Lawrence, who originated the role, was a part of West Side Story from its early stages of development through its triumphant premiere and beyond. In the above video, she recounts her first impressions of Bernstein and what it was like to audition for and work with him, a talented musician and human being who “somehow… made you better.”

He just charmed you right out of your skin. And that was before you heard his music! He just opened his mouth and said, “Hello, my darling,” and you melted. You just melted.

In the second part of the video (2:08), Lawrence describes opening night at National Theatre in Washington, DC — from the audience’s anticipation to the curtain call:

No one expected him to kill three principals and call it a comedy. … It was everything we had hoped for.

About this content

This content is part of the #Bernsteinat100 Memory Project. Video courtesy of The Leonard Bernstein Office, Inc.

Photo gallery (from left): Program for Washington DC tryout at National Theatre (Courtesy: The New York Public Library). Carol Lawrence in the state production of West Side Story (Credit: Fred Fehl). Leonard Bernstein’s West Side Story notes regarding auditions and casting, May, 1957 (Credit: Library of Congress, Music Division, Courtesy: The Leonard Bernstein Office, Inc.). Leonard Bernstein at the opening of West Side Story at the National Theater, Washington DC, August 12, 1957. (Credit: Library of Congress, Music Division. Courtesy: The Leonard Bernstein Office, Inc.).

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