What to Know About ‘Maestro’: A Guide to Bradley Cooper’s Bernstein Biopic

Pop quiz: Who wrote the score for Bradley Cooper’s new Leonard Bernstein biopic, “Maestro”?

Trick question: Bernstein. But you might not realize it, or learn of some of his more lasting accomplishments (“West Side Story” erasure!), even after watching the entire film, which focuses on the personal life of the prodigiously talented musician.

Which is to say, the film — which Cooper directed and starred in, and which is now streaming on Netflix — does not hand-hold. It assumes some basic familiarity with one of America’s most storied conductors and composers. Here’s a guide to help you get up to speed.

His career

What is Bernstein best known for?

One of the rare virtuosos to compose for musical theater, write classical music and conduct august bodies like the New York Philharmonic, Bernstein is probably best remembered as the composer of the 1957 musical “West Side Story.”

The Manhattan-set tale of urban gang warfare in New York City, based on “Romeo & Juliet,” includes standards like “Tonight,” “I Feel Pretty” and the aching, wistful “Maria.” The classic show, a collaboration with Arthur Laurents, who wrote the book, and Stephen Sondheim, who penned the lyrics, won two Tony Awards in its original incarnation.

In his day, Bernstein was known first and foremost as an animated, passionate conductor. After his spectacular fill-in debut at the Philharmonic at age 25 in 1943 — on just a few hours’ notice, because the scheduled guest conductor fell ill — Bernstein would be affiliated with the orchestra for four decades and conduct symphonies around the world.

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