Broadway Review: “West Side Story” at the Broadway Theatre (Currently On)
Broadway Review: “West Side Story” at the Broadway Theatre (Currently On) Based on a Conception by Jerome Robbins Book by Arthur Laurents Music by Leonard Bernstein Lyrics by Stephen Sondheim Directed by Ivo Van Hove Reviewed by Joseph Verlezza Theatre Reviews Limited
It is a beneficial and rewarding venture to rework a classic piece of theatre that has withstood the test of time because it was revolutionary in the development of the genre and made an important commentary on the socio-economic status of the time. If the vision and purpose is to update the storyline to reflect the present situation with the concealed subliminal message that nothing has changed over the decades, the creative team must pay the utmost attention to detail and be ultra- diligent in the deconstruction. Prudence must come into play, being able to reshape without removing the tension and passion intended by the original creators to be the nucleus of the production. The benefit of this type of reconstruction is to develop a new and younger audience that will support and reinforce the need to keep healthy, innovative theatre alive for the future.
The latest victim that falls prey to this risky venture is the iconic masterpiece “West Side Story” originally brought to the stage in 1957 by the theatre legends Arthur Laurents (book), Leonard Bernstein (music), Stephen Sondheim (lyrics) and directed and choreographed by Jerome Robbins. The reinvented version now playing at the Broadway Theatre is directed by Ivo Van Hove and choreographed by Anne Teresa De Keersmaeker who desperately try to keep it on track but for the most part it is like a runaway train ready to derail. It is difficult to determine what the new creative team was trying to accomplish or to understand the ambiguous concept they were employing to attain their elusive goal.
It is not necessary to detail the storyline since most are familiar with the retelling of Shakespeare’s infamous lover’s Romeo and Juliet set on the upper west side of New York City during the nineteen fifties. The rival families, now gangs, are the so-called American Jets and the immigrated Puerto Ricans who call themselves the Sharks. Protecting their turf and their loved ones from integration and harm there needs to be a rumble to settle the score. All does not end well for star crossed lovers Tony and Maria in this modern-day tragedy.
There are far too many obstacles that prevent this present incarnation from being a revitalized version of the original and an equal amount of confusion in understanding the restructure. This new composition may use a magical realism approach for a new ending, imagined time travel for depicting appearance and language, nostalgic settings to delineate location and video projected scenes and close-ups on a jumbo Tron to satisfy a contemporary visual fixation of younger generations. Unfortunately, rather than becoming a cohesive combination it undermines the foundation of the dramatic arc.
The cast can be credited for most likely following the scattered direction of Mr. Van Hove and perfectly executing the less than valid and uninteresting choreography of Ms. Keersmaeker. Although they are a remarkably talented group of actors with sufficient vocal and dance ability, they lack the passion and chemistry needed to elevate this production. Standing out are the performances of Isaac Powell (Tony) with his sweet and powerful Baritenor and Shereen Pimentel (Maria) with her pure and controlled soprano. Alone and together they reinterpret their songs, altering volume, changing phrasing and infusing lyrics with urgency and passion.
Perhaps it would have been better if Mr. Van Hove started from scratch and created an entirely new musical that would address the present socio-political situation of inner cities. This production rears too many conflicts that hinder plausibility. Gang members look tuff and dangerous sporting ink and fashionable clothing but do not speak or behave like “hoodlums” or vicious gang members on streets today. Unlike the Sharks and the Jets, today’s gangs might pilfer corner drug stores and murder the proprietors rather than hang out to plan a rumble. There are no drugs, no vaping, no foul language and no random acts of violence. Comparatively they behave like altar boys and speak like intellectuals with perfect articulation as they spout 1950’sphrases like “cool man” and “daddyo”. They have cell phones but never use them for the entire production until it is time to video police brutality. Ms. Keersmaeker fails to integrate her choreography into the body of the work and strips the tension which exists in the incredible score. Granted there is no time period listed in the program, but this production seems to move back and forth between six decades. The original used summer heat to increase tension and sensuality, here the rain cools things down to a quiet simmer.
This certainly is a controversial production that will cause conversation and possibly disagreement on the way home from the theatre. The question is the verdict. This one humble opinion feels that it will be a hung jury as audiences flock to the theatre to have a look for themselves and pass judgement. On that note perhaps Mr. Van Hove has succeeded in bringing more people in to support the growth of theatre during these turbulent times.
WEST SIDE STORY
The cast of “West Side Story” features Isaac Powell as Tony, Shereen Pimentel as Maria, Yesenia Ayala as Anita, Dharon E. Jones as Riff, and Amar Ramasar as Bernardo.
The production also features scenery and lighting design by Jan Versweyveld, with costume design by An d'Huys, sound design by Tom Gibbons, video design by Luke Halls, and orchestrations by Leonard Bernstein, Sid Ramin, Irwin Kostal, and Jonathan Tunick.
“West Side Story” is currently on at the Broadway Theatre (1681 Broadway). For more information including the full cast, full performance schedule and to purchase tickets, visit https://westsidestorybway.com/. Running time is 1 hour and 45 minutes without intermission.
Photo: Shereen Pimentel, Isaac Powell, and the cast of “West Side Story.” Credit: Jan Versweyveld.
0 Comments | Add Comment | Permalink | Posted by David Roberts on Saturday, March 7, 2020