23rd August, 1957: With his wife, Felicia, currently many miles away visiting family in Chile, an overjoyed Leonard Bernstein writes her a letter and reports on the successful trial run of West Side Story in Washington, D.C. The composer’s relief is almost palpable, his genuine excitement infectious, as he recalls positive reviews; the regular attendance of dignitaries; and even lunch at the White House.
Broadway beckoned, and they opened at the Winter Garden Theatre the next month to similarly captivated audiences. West Side Story went on to become one of the most famous musicals of all time.
Transcript follows. Image courtesy of The Leonard Bernstein Collection.
Jefferson Hotel, Washington
It’s all too exciting. I never dreamed it could be like this — reviews such as one would write for oneself — the whole town up and doing about the show — those delicious long lines at the box office — morale high — dignitaries every night — the senate practically in toto — parties — hot newspapers — all the atmosphere of a mid-season opening — gala — emeralds, furs — The works. Only thing missing — you. How I longed to have you there and share the excitement! Of course, as they say, it’s only Washington, not New York — don’t count chickens. But it sure looks like a smash, & all our experiments seem to have worked. The book works, the tragedy works, the ballets shine, the music pulses & soars, & there is at least one history-making set. It’s all too good to be true.
I’ve just lunched at the White House — no más. Invited by Sherman Adams & the whole gang. Again — you should have been there! What a beautiful place — such credenzas, such breakfronts. I really felt “in”. Adams & Rabb & Gen. Snyder — all were talking of nothing but West Side Story — I think the whole government is based on it. Jim Hagerty (Ike’s press secretary) turns out to be a fan of mine! It’s all so crazy and unexpected. Even Adams turns out to be an amateur musician!
Now listen! When are you coming home? I have a constant feeling you’re about to turn up any minute — but look, the time is drawing near. Only 10 days to Labor Day. And the Summer’s over. What I hope is that you’ll all be back for the Philly opening (Monday the 9th) which is our anniversary, for Chrissake — or even for Jamie’s birthday on Sunday. Please try to manage it, huh? Why stick around that plaguey place, bored as you are, after Labor Day? Let me know right away when you plan to return, and darling, hurry home. I can’t stand not seeing the children, and I need my girl!
I love you
23 Aug ’57
I’m 39 in 2 days!!