Karen, Bruce, and I saw the new production of *West Side Story* on Broadway on 2/8/20. It was directed by my favorite director, Belgian director Ivo Van Hove. I've now seen nine of his shows:
*All About Eve*
*Diary of One Who Vanished*
*A View From the Bridge*
You can read reviews of almost all of these in my archives. He's a thrilling director.
This production has been polarizing - - people either love it or hate it. The biggest issue is the new choreography, by Anne Teresa De Keersmaeker. This was the first time *West Side Story* had been performed in New York with anything but the original Jerome Robbins choreography. I liked the new choreography, it had more of a street vibe, but was still graceful and elegant. It took me a long time to get used to the absence of finger snapping! I think I still miss it. It seems like it's built into the show, but I can see why Van Hove and De Keersmaeker decided to leave it out, it does have a mid-century sort of flavor. But then, if they're going to go all contemporary with the production, why are the characters will referring to each other as "Daddy-o"? That bothered me.
Isaac Powell played Tony, he had an offhand, natural manner of singing, what was refreshing and made me hear these all-too-familiar songs in a new way. Shireen Pimentel played Maria - - she has a lovely voice and she had Powell sounded good together and had good chemistry, but for my taste she was maybe a little too full-blown opera for this production.
Van Hove directed the show with an emphasis on grittiness and conflict. The trade-off is we get less of the idealism and romance that seem inherent in the text. This didn't quite line up, for me. The rumble was disturbing, in a way it hadn't been before, and it should be disturbing, right? The rumble was helped by the rain onstage...
I am officially OVER rain onstage! It's a gimmick, it's being done way too often. It was crucial in the impact of the rumble, but he should have stopped it there. Late in the show Tony had a conversation with Doc, when Doc told Tony had Maria had been killed - - and this scene was staged with both characters standing in the rain, even though they're about three feet away from Doc's store. Wouldn't you have this conversation indoors? Am I wrong looking for logical behavior in a Broadway musical?
Of course Van Hove used a lot of video, and his usual inventive mix of pre-recorded video and live video of what was happening onstage, all of it projected larger than life onto the back wall. He also used pre-recorded video of city streets as a sort of backdrop, that was effective. Best of all, he filmed some scenes in locations that didn't exist onstage - - like a few scenes in Maria's bedroom, then we saw Maria leave her room, walk down the stairs, and then the actor playing Maria walked onstage. This use of video gave a nice intimacy and variety to the show.
The greatest joy of the performance was hearing that incredible music. My favorite song in the show has always been "Cool," and in this production I was knocked out by the whole note motif in the orchestra in this song. You hear it in this clip from the movie at 1:00, played on a muted trumpet:
To quote Little Richard, that totally made my toe go up in my boot!
Here's my take on out-of-the-box revivals: does it really do any harm? If the work itself is strong enough, it can stand up to many different points of view, many unusual perspectives and interpretations, and *West Side Story* is definitely strong enough. Plus, if you want to see the original, watch the damn movie.