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Stephen Sondheim’s One-Sentence Review Of Steven Spielberg’s West Side Story Is Emotional And Perfect

The Broadway community, a close-knit family, continues to mourn the recent passing of one of its icons. Composer and lyricist Stephen Sondheim died on November 26, in his home in Connecticut. He was 91. As if that wasn’t tragic enough, we know now that Sondheim was eagerly awaiting the opening of the new film West Side Story, derived from his brilliant musical and directed by the great Steven Spielberg. The legendary director recently sat down with CinemaBlend to share his process for West Side Story, and in that conversation, he shared Sondheim’s perfect review of the anticipated movie. It’s in the video above. 

There are a handful of people whose reviews of West Side Story would truly matter to Steven Spielberg as he prepared to introduce his remake/reimagining of the classic musical to the world. And Stephen Sondheim would have to be one of them. So when Spielberg shared this story of the last communication he had with Sondheim, it hit even harder, emotionally, knowing how much the celebrated lyricist was looking forward to the premiere. As Spielberg remembered:   

The last thing he said to me was, ‘I can not wait for Monday night. I can not wait to see this with an audience.’ He saw the movie way back in February with his husband, Jeff, and he said, ‘I can not wait for Monday night.’ And that is the saddest, because I never expected this to happen. Then he sent me a note just a week before he passed quoting the line that Action says to Anybodys, and he just sent me a simple note. He said… he called me, I was ‘SS 2’ and he was ‘SS1.’ And he said, ‘SS2… you done good buddy boy. -- SS1.’ That was the last note I got from Steve.

Now I’m even more heartbroken. Stephen Sondheim deserved to see West Side Story with the most endearing audience possible. CinemaBlend editor Corey Chichizola was in the crowd for the premiere in New York City and said there was an eruption of applause when Sondheim’s name appeared in the end credits. But Steven Spielberg didn’t just lose a colleague. He lost a movie-loving friend when Sondheim passed. As he told CinemaBlend: 

We became very good friends, not just over West Side Story, but because we both are cineasts. We are film mad, and we know all of the movies from the ‘30s, ‘40s and ‘50s. We spent the entire year and a half of being in quarantine during COVID literally exchanging films with each other from coast to coast and getting on the phone, and long four-page emails about those films, these recommendations.

Can you imagine trading four-page emails with Steven Spielberg, recommending old movies to each other back and forth? Film heaven. We hear West Side Story is film heaven, as well, and fans of the movie musical will be able to find out for themselves when it lands in theaters on December 10.

Sean O'Connell

Managing Director at CinemaBlend. ReelBlend cohost. A movie junkie who's Infatuated with comic-book films. Helped get the Snyder Cut released, then wrote a book about it.