West Side Story: Total Momsical Failure
|Tony and Maria pulled apart, photo @ Sara Krulwich|
|The barely visible set against the video, photo @ Sara Krulwich|
The video was very distracting and I can see why my mom disliked it. But that wasn't why I felt that this revival of West Side Story ultimately fell very off the mark.
|the mixed race Jets, photo @ Sarah Krulwich|
|Jets and Sharks meeting, photo @ Jan Versweyveld|
Third sign these people are not from NYC: the laughable attempts by choreographer Anne Teresa de Keersmaeker to mimic "street" movements. To be blunt, it all looks very European modern dance TRYING to be "break dance." Big leg kicks to the side, squiggling of the torso and rolling around on the floor -- typical modern dance movements. It's okay that the choreography doesn't live up to Jerome Robbins' iconic original choreography, but when "Cool" looks more Pina Bausch than hip hop/break dance, there's a problem.
All this might have been okay if Ivo van Hove hadn't tried so hard to "update" this West Side Story to modern day. Modern day dress, modern day issues ("Officer Krupke" has a bunch of video projections of police brutality, the video often takes us to what looks like 2020 NYC's side alleys, Docs is now a bodega and the dress shop is a sweat shop). And here we run into another huge problem: West Side Story's book is very specific to a time and place. There's lingo that would never be used today.
As an example here's the lyrics to "Officer Krupke"
Dear kindly Judge, your Honor
My parents treat me rough With all their marijuana
They won't give me a puff
They didn't wanna have me
But somehow I was had Leapin' lizards! That's why I'm so bad!
[DIESEL (As Judge)] Right! Officer Krupke, you're really a square;
This boy don't need a judge, he needs an analyst's care!
It's just his neurosis that oughta be curbed
He's psychologically disturbed!
Will someone please point out that in 2020 no one talks about taking a "puff" of "marijuana"? No one calls judges "squares" anymore? That the street lingo has changed? No one calls Puerto Rican "spicks" anymore, no one uses terms like "Daddy-O." When the Jets and Sharks look all tough and street and then use these "ok boomer" terms it takes one out of the moment. It just feels false. The dated nature of the book was painfully apparent in all the scenes with Doc, Lt. Shrank and Krupke. The actors did their best but they sounded so 1950's. So square.
In this case perhaps it would have been better not to update at all, or to revise the book to better reflect 2020 street lingo? Stephen Sondheim (the lyricist) is still alive and has seen this production.
|Tony and Maria, photo @ Jan Versweyveld|
Tony and Maria aren't very individual in this production. Maria's one solo "I Feel Pretty" is cut, and to be honest Powell had better chemistry with the Riff (Dharon E. Jones). My mom was very vocal in that she felt that Powell and Pimentel weren't directed right. "They aren't cute, or appealing, or anything." In this production Tony gives Maria a stuffed monkey. That's one of the few moments where Tony and Maria seem like actual people.
|Amar Ramasar, photo @ Sara Krulwich|
|Ramasar and Ayala, photo @ Jan Versweyveld|
Otherwise Ivo van Hove has trimmed the show to be a quick beeline towards the bloodbath. It runs one hour 45 minutes on the dot. And here lies the final issue with this revival: the show moves fast and the dead bodies pile up quickly. But Leonard Bernstein's score isn't a sprint towards tragedy. West Side Story endures because the score has moments of such romantic beauty. Those moments need to breathe. The audience needs to soak in "Maria" and "Tonight" and "One Hand, One Heart" before everyone dies.
The tragedy of Romeo and Juliet/West Side Story isn't just that so many young people are dead by the time the curtain falls. But that these young people are fun, and romantic, and worth caring about. Ivo van Hove's direction is slick but soulless -- all that video constantly tells audience exactly where to look but never reaches the heart.
At the end of the evening Shereen Pimentel made a speech dedicating the performance to Carol Lawrence who was in the audience. Carol Lawrence is the original Broadway Maria. This seems as good of a time as any to show a video of the WSS OBC: