CurtainUp
The Internet Theater Magazine of Reviews, Features, Annotated Listings


A CurtainUp Review
West Side Story
Could be! Who knows? There's something due any day; I will know right away, Soon as it shows. — Tony
WSS
If you are of a certain age you may have fond memories of what West Side Story. As hard as it is to erase previous productions of the classic musical opera composed by Leonard Bernstein with lyrics by Stephen Sondheim and a book by Arthur Laurents inspired by Shakespeare's Romeo and Juliet, . But Belgian director Ivo van Hove has achieved the impossible, a completely original version. He does it mostly with a concept that deploys an aggressive use of film and visuals that go well beyond what he achieved most effectively in his stage adaptation of the film Network (review of Van Hove's production) .

The renewed and invigorating authenticity of this West Side Story has, however, been achieved sometimes at the expense of what was. Consequently, this WSS may just best a be judged best by a generation more attuned to experience more of the utter ruthlessness, hatred and fear that generally defines the territorial clashes between the newly arrived Puerto Ricans and all the other ethnic communities that want control of their own New York City turf.

Most likely van Hove's vision is going to thrill new viewers as much as it will also alienate old fans. This otherwise glorious composition is destined to survive no matter tinkering. It moves swiftly enough through its 100 minutes without an intermission. For the most part, traditionalists can rest assured that Bernstein'srapturously melodic and purposefully abrasive score is given full value by a large orchestra. Musically the show is magnificent with the sound, including that coming from the singers, value by a large orchestra. Musically the show is magnificent with the sound, including that com ing from the singers, perfectly modulated, a rarity these days.

Even without athe electrifying finger-snapping dancing initially created by choreographer Jerome Robbins that drove so much of the original'saction, it's easy to quickly appreciate what choreographer Anne Teresa De Keersmaeker has in mind and what she has achieved with impressive results. One has to marvel how the clashes between the gangs. The famous "Rumble"and the tension-filled "The Dance at the Gym" feel less like dances than exploding/unleashed feelings — all grounded in movement that incorporates a lot of tumbling and gymnastics.

This is a WSS that is calculated to be unnerving and surprising. It is. But the question is whether WSS was so dated that it needed to be drastically revitalized to be a serious contender for revival. The most recent Broadway revival in 2009 incorporated lyrics sung in Spanish contributed by Lin-Manuel Miranda (review). van Hove has gone to great lengths to make this classic relevant for a new audience.

Lauren's book remains viable and resilient, as do Sondheim's street-smart and savvy lyrics. Enhancing the musical with more visceral elements is an essential aspect of this production. Rich in detail, the various locations appear almost as miniatures with a grandly scaled frame as designed by Jan Versweyveld who also created the stunning mood-creating lighting. They become complicit with a panoramic projection of ever on the move, high definition visuals. These reveal cityscapes as clearly as they do close-ups of the heavily tattooed actors' faces. Nice to see up close the gangs' hip and grungy attire as creatively designed by An D'Huys.

Distracting and disorienting at times, the visuals make focusing on the action difficult. As a result, we are distanced rather than connected to the ill-fated romance between Tony and Maria. Performers also have to navigate through a torrential rainfall that intrudes on the action and presumably serves as a metaphor. Which may matter more to some thsn others.

The famed balcony scene ("Tonight") gets a new and witty perspective that I will not ruin for you as it provides an unexpected laugh. The once comically considered "Gee, Officer Krupke" is turned brilliantly inside out to reflect the rage and disconnect between the police and the young citizenry. Interesting to see how the adults such as Doc (Daniel Oreskes), Lt. Schrank (Thomas Jay Ryan) Officer Krupke (Danny Wolohan) are given hardened and edgier demeanors, which works well.

There are a few standouts among the thirty-nine performers, many of whom look mean, angry and tough enough to avoid on the street. As you may recall, Chita Rivera became a star over night in the supporting role of Anita when her dancing and performance of "America" blew audiences away. Kudos are in order to Yesenia Ayala for having a fiery fling with that role. More praise is due terrific dancers Dharon E. Jones as the Jet's leader Riff and Amar Ramasar as the Shark's leader Bernardo, as well as the entire ensemble.

Issac Powell gives Tony the spark of wholesomeness that makes him an ideal hero. He proves his mettle with a soaring "Maria." It's too bad that the score doesn't allow for more of the wonderful Shereen Pimental's shimmerng soprano, as Maria. You won't miss "I Feel Pretty" a from the score as the woke world of today does not call for a WSS that values such sentiments i — a world where ethnic, social and political posturing is at war with tradition, culture, and history. all struggling to be afforded equal value.






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PRODUCTION NOTES
West Side Story based on a conception by Jerome Robbins
Book by Arthur Laurents
Music by Leonard Bernstein
Lyrics by Stephen Sondheim
Directed by Ivo van Hove
Choreography by Anne Teresa De Keersmaeker
Cast of Principals: Dharon E. Jones (Riff), Isaac Powell (Tony), Amar Ramasar (Bernardo), Shereen Pimentel (Maria), Yesenia Ayala (Anita), Jacob Guzman (Chino), Daniel Oreskes (Doc), Thomas Jay Ryan (Lt. Schrank), Danny Wolohan (Krupke), Pippa Pearthree (Glad Hand)
Scenic and Lighting Design: Jan Versweyveld
Video Design: Luke Halls
Costume Design: An D?Huys
Sound Design: Tom Gibbons
PSM: Kevin Bertolacci Orchestration: Jonathan Tunick Music Supervision & Director: Alexander Gemignani
Running Time: 1 hour 40 minutes without intermission
Broadway Theatre 1681 Broadway
From 12/10/2019 Opened 02/20/20
Review by Simon Saltzman based on performance 03/05/20


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