A New Side to West Side Story?
September 24, 2019: Theater lovers have been and should be delighted that West Side Story is once again being revived on Broadway. The production, directed by Ivo van Hoveand featuring all-new choreography by “Belgian modern dance luminary” De Keersmaeker, will officially open Feb 6, 2020. And already we are being told by producer Scott Rudin “This is not like any West Side Story anybody has seen.”
In the last few years, we have seen several revivals of several iconic musicals. Often, directors of these revivals have made considerable effort to provide audiences with updated version even the most “politically correct” will not find offensive.
Thus the 2015 revival of Lerner and Loewe’s Gigi, newly-adapted by Heidi Thomas and directed by Eric D. Schaeffer, transformed Gaston from a wealthy older man lusting after a much younger woman into a young, attractive, age appropriate lover portrayed by Corey Cott, weakening the plotline and taking away much of the musical’s spicy transgression.
The 2018 revival of Rodgers and Hammerstein’s Carousel, directed by Jack O’Brien, not only featured color-conscious casting but also tried to give voice to abused woman, turning a bittersweet romance into cynical social commentary. The show did not last long.
And that same year, My Fair Lady, in the hands of Bartlett Sher, restored the original ending of George Bernard Shaw’s Pygmalion by having Eliza inexplicably leave Professor Higgins, even after he sings the captivating and capitulating “I’ve Grown Accustomed to Her Face.” Once again, Lerner and Loewe were the victims.
Undeterred with Carousel’s less than overwhelming reception, last year Daniel Fish turned Rodgers and Hammerstein’s Oklahoma! on its head, introducing such a variety of inventions that even reviewers who claimed to have loved the show also had to admit there were many scenes they just didn’t’ understand. Nevertheless, the show won the 2019 Tony for Best Revival of a Musical, and the limited engagement was recently extended into January 2020.
In West Side Story, Bernstein, Sondheim and Robbins created a work that has not yet lost its relevance. But we live at a time when directors are roundly disparaged for being too traditional and praised for interpretations that are “daring” and “bold.” It’s hard to imagine a director like Ivo van Hove, well-known for his radical re-imaginings, resisting the temptation to give us a West Side Story some of us may not recognize