If you want to fall a little in love, get yourself in a room with Arthur Laurents. He has everything: creativity, talent, vitality, courage, wit, impeccable timing, and experience. Lots of experience: writing Rope (dating Farley!), The Way We Were, The Turning Point, writing (and later directing) West Side Story, Gypsy, directing La Cage aux Folles. His second memoir has just been published. He's ninety-one.
As if all that wasn't enough to electrify last night's interview led by the perfect guide, director David Saint, Laurents also has strong opinions and sharp tongue. Yet he still seems disappointed when people are surprised by his frankness because to him it's so simple: say what you think and don't say what you don't think. (He mimicked two-faced theater queens saying, "Darling! You were brilliant! / My god! Did you SEE it??")
Amid the true and funny barbs, Laurents spoke often about love. He offered unsentimental generalizations ("Love is more important than theater, than anything else." "You give love, and you get it back,") and specific tributes to his partner for fifty-two years, Tom Hatcher. Laurents conveyed it was the sustaining power of their relationship that made so many of his successes possible. The recent Gypsy revival starring Patti Lupone was Tom's idea, in part because they hated the Sam Mendes version and because Tom knew he was dying of cancer and wanted Arthur to be busy after he was gone.
Buy his new book to understand what he calls the "inextricable" twin forces in his life, theater and Tom. I have no doubt that he is even more intelligent and funnier on the page than he was in person.
On Barbra Streisand: "I told her, 'When you cut your fingernails, you'll be an actress. She has never cut them."
"Musical comedy was in the past and should be left in the past. What we need is musical theater."
Since the 1950s, "theater has changed more than the world, believe it or not."
On Ethel Merman: "I said she couldn't act. She can't!" [Led to funny story about Tom being shouted down in the Village by angry gay men shouting across the street: "Tell your 'friend' he's wrong about Merman!"]
On Gypsy advancing from City Center: "Then we moved to Broadway, which was like going to Chernobyl."
Always the writer, Laurents analyzed famous scenes that "make no sense" like "Too Darn Hot!" (it's so hot and they're jumping around singing 32 choruses?), criticized directors of musicals who never think why a character is singing as opposed to speaking, lambasted the new London production of La Cage as homophobic, and reiterated that he, Bernstein, Robbins, and Sondheim all disliked the movie version of West Side Story.