Steven Spielberg toasts ‘Immortals’ Stephen Sondheim at ‘West Side Story’ premiere

Steven Spielberg were there. So already Rita Moreno, Ansel Elgort, and Rachel Zegler. But a towering presence has been missing since Monday West story debuted at New York City’s Rose Theater at Jazz at Lincoln Center: Stephen Sondheim, the Broadway icon whose first major job in theater was writing musical lyrics.

Sondheim die friday at 91 years old, sending shockwaves through a close-knit and inspiring theater community score of drain from his friends and collaborators. One of those tributes came from Spielberg, who issued a brief statement about Sondheim’s move to Diversity. But Spielberg expanded on those remarks considerably at Monday’s premiere, offering a touching tribute to Sondheim, which honors the composer and lyricist as both a virtuoso and a friend. close.

After the intro from the Disney chair Bob Iger, Spielberg took the stage. His full remarks on Sondheim are transcribed below.

Thank you all for being here tonight. It couldn’t be the night we’ve all been waiting for because of Stephen Sondheim’s absence. His great lyrics for West story put him on the map for the first time, and launch a career that will completely redraw that map, reinvent musicals and theater, and create a work that is, without a doubt, any death as anything mortal can do.

To borrow what Ben Johnson said about Shakespeare, Stephen Sondheim is not of the times, but of all times. And Stephen was a big part of our making, West story, from the earliest drafts of the script to every taping Steve attended without fail. He’ll close his eyes and listen, he’ll sway, he’ll swoon — or he’ll wince and flinch. I find myself watching Steve’s expressions sometimes more than the actors, because they perfectly reflect what everyone else is doing.

He’s always procrastinating with our music director, Jeanine Tesori. Jeanine directs all vocal performances. But his insistence, like Jeanine’s, is to tell the truth about feelings based on an understanding of character. You can overcome any challenge presented by the complex score, Steve says, as long as you know who you are and what you’re feeling.

And me and him became good friends. He’s SS One, and I’m SS Two. And I insisted on that ranking!

Our friendships form around our work West story. It grew as I realized that Steve possessed an infinite store of film and trivia knowledge. He told me things about his fondness for actresses with smoky voices, like Ida Lupino and Glynis Johns, and how many different ways Margaret Sullavan died in her movies — imagine her contract with MGM stipulating that she can never be killed the same way twice.

Those are the details that never escape Steve’s attention, whether on the board or on the screen. And like all other people on the planet who care about words and music, I am heartbroken at this sudden loss. But Steve is here with us tonight in the form of his great genius and the glorious musical he helped bring into the world 64 years ago. And he’s also here to thank us for all the art and culture he left behind. Thanks, Steve.

Spielberg went on to honor the many members of his cast, crew, and creative team, and applaud a handful of performers from the 1961 film about West story who were also in the audience that night — including Russ Tamblyn, who played Riff. But he ended up, naturally, by going back to Sondheim.

“Thank you all for coming and being with us,” he said, just before the lights dimmed. “And thank you, Steve, for the hat. We all miss you.”

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