Newspaper article Evening Chronicle (Newcastle, England)

Life of a Musical Maestro

Newspaper article Evening Chronicle (Newcastle, England)

Life of a Musical Maestro

Article excerpt

Somewhere: The life of jerome robbins, by Amanda Vaill, is published in hardback by Weidenfeld & Nicolson, priced pounds 25. Available now.

American stage musicals, which were often turned into films, reached their apogee between 1940 and 1980. Choreographer Jerome Robbins (1918-1998) was one of the greatest contributors to this art form which came to embody American popular culture around the world.

Vaill is an elegant writer who, we are told, had unprecedented access to Robbins' letters, diaries and journals. She presents her detailed account of his life sympathetically but does not shy away from his faults.

He was born Jerome Rabinowitz on Manhatten's Lower East Side, to immigrant Jewish parents from Eastern Europe. Turning his back on a business career - his father part-owned a corset company - he went on stage as a dancer at an early age and adopted the stage name 'Robbins'. Later he became a choreographer and director of musicals.

The artistic temperament, with its constant highs and lows, coursed strongly through his veins. He was a perfectionist, who could be a tyrant, but he also possessed charm and many people were very fond of him. He displayed great generosity when he became wealthy.

Robbins seems to have been edgy about his Jewishness when he was younger and his love-life produced no lasting relationship. Feelings of guilt did not deter him from having many gay involvements however, including one with the actor Montgomery Clift. He also had affairs with attractive women, although he never married one. The number of hit musicals choreographed and sometimes directed by him is staggering. They include On The Town (1944) The King And I (1951) West Side Story (1957) - which was probably his crowning glory - Gipsy (1959) and Fiddler On The Roof in 1964.

In 1972 he became ballet master at the New York City Ballet and thereafter he concentrated on classical ballet. He died wreathed in honours, having become a living legend in his lifetime. …

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