Earlier this year, not one but two Leonard Bernstein biopics were announced, with Jake Gyllenhaal and Bradley Cooper each playing the composer of West Side Story and countless other musicals, ballets, operas, and orchestral works. (Pause here to imagine the A-list actors dance- brawling, Sharks-vs.-Jets-style.)
August 25 marks the American maestro’s 100th birthday, and many of the nation’s finest cultural institutions are throwing him a centennial bash. The Smithsonian’s National Portrait Gallery, in Washington, D.C., is hanging a portrait of him taken by Henri Cartier-Bresson (August 24 to September 23); the National Museum of American Jewish History in Philadelphia is presenting an exhibition on his religious, political, and sexual identity (through September 2); and the Skirball Cultural Center in Los Angeles is showing his conductor baton and childhood piano (through September 2).
The best way to pay homage to the music legend, however, is to catch West Side Story, live. This month alone, the musical will be performed in Osaka, by the all-female Takarazuka Revue; in the ruins of a Finnish medieval castle; at London’s Royal Albert Hall; at Minneapolis’s Guthrie Theater; and in Germany, Sweden, and Switzerland— all of which goes to show that you don’t need to “be in America” to experience one of the country’s greatest cultural icons.