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Ivo van Hove & Anne Teresa De Keersmaeker Take On West Side Story for Broadway

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Rather similar to reinventing Swan Lake for the umpteenth time.  

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On 7/12/2018 at 2:11 PM, Amy Reusch said:

Nice way to salute the Robbins Centennial...    I don't understand this.   

That was my first response as well.  I'm very curious to know what they would do with this work, but I'm not sure they'd be my choice for a new production in this centennial year.

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On 7/10/2019 at 5:15 PM, Rick said:

Amar will play Bernardo in the upcoming Broadway revival of West Side Story, scheduled to begin previews in December 2019. I think this means he won't be in NYCB's winter and spring seasons? The new Ivo van Hove production will also replace Jerome Robbins's choreography with that of Anne Teresa De Keersmaeker.

'West Side Story' Broadway Revival Cast Unveiled

 

Ramasar being cast in West Side Story is probably a strategic move on his part.  He may have signed on before his reinstatement was ordered by AGMA.  Or maybe he feels that NYCB management is unlikely to extend his contract past its current end date,  so having a prominent Broadway role lined up is an excellent backup plan for him.

That said,  I am dismayed by the idea that a classic American musical is being "reinterpreted" by Europeans.  West Side Story was conceived by Jerome Robbins.  If you're going to chuck his work,  why not throw out the Bernstein-Sondheim score while you're at it?  If Van Hove and De Keersmaeker want to create a musical about lovers defying ethnic conflict,  their own country can provide them with sufficient material.

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1 hour ago, On Pointe said:

Ramasar being cast in West Side Story is probably a strategic move on his part.  He may have signed on before his reinstatement was ordered by AGMA.  Or maybe he feels that NYCB management is unlikely to extend his contract past its current end date,  so having a prominent Broadway role lined up is an excellent backup plan for him.

That said,  I am dismayed by the idea that a classic American musical is being "reinterpreted" by Europeans.  West Side Story was conceived by Jerome Robbins.  If you're going to chuck his work,  why not throw out the Bernstein-Sondheim score while you're at it?  If Van Hove and De Keersmaeker want to create a musical about lovers defying ethnic conflict,  their own country can provide them with sufficient material.

Directors of all nationalities reconceptualize all kinds of works (operas, operettas, musical theater) for all kinds of reasons in all kinds of places.  How many different takes of Carmen have we seen in the life of that work?   Far more than a couple of different views of West Side Story.

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It's pretty amazing that two high-profile projects with West Side Story are currently being prepared - this new B'way version (with an amazing line-up of producers), and Steven Spielberg's new film version. Neither project will use the choreography of Jerome Robbins.  Sounds scary, but you never know...                                                                      

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There have been recent revivals of Carousel and Oklahoma not choreographed by DeMille, with whom they were associated.

The 1998 West End revival of Oklahoma was choreographed by Stroman, as was the 2002 Broadway revival. Wikipedia lists Heginbotham as the choreographer for the 2019 revival. Hynter chose Kenneth MacMillan this time for the 1992 revival, and Peck did the recent Broadway revival.  Wikipedia mentions a production in Basil in 2016-17 choreographed by Rotemberg. 

Both musicals have been produced around the world with different choreographers. So has West Side Story. Is it that the latest ventures are high profile to North Americans? 

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6 hours ago, On Pointe said:

If Van Hove and De Keersmaeker want to create a musical about lovers defying ethnic conflict,  their own country can provide them with sufficient material.

Well, for one thing, I don't think Van Hove and De Keersmaeker are in the business of creating musicals. That's presumably why they are instead creating a new production of an existing work — which is something that's been done with theater works for centuries and has generally not been limited to those who are of the same national origin as the original creators.

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32 minutes ago, nanushka said:

Well, for one thing, I don't think Van Hove and De Keersmaeker are in the business of creating musicals. 

You said a mouthful.  All the more reason why they should get in a little practice before messing with West Side Story.

Great minds with but a single thought,  lol.  Here's showbiz411's take on the enterprise:

https://www.showbiz411.com/2019/07/15/new-broadway-version-of-west-side-story-will-replace-classic-soaring-dances-with-moves-from-avant-garde-choreographer-who-accused-beyonce-of-plagiarism

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1 minute ago, On Pointe said:

You said a mouthful.  All the more reason why they should get in a little practice before messing with West Side Story.

Sorry, I don't understand the reasoning here. Stage directors aren't qualified to create interpretations of existing works unless they have previously created original works themselves? Those skill sets are quite different, even if they do overlap. How is (for instance) writing a play oneself necessary "practice" for directing a play written by another?

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Balanchine didn't have musical theater experience, including tap, when he was first hired. 

Reading Steichen's "Balanchine and Kirstein's American Enterprise," it sounds like, for the tap sections, he was, at most, traffic cop while the tap dancers came up with their own material. But sometimes, knowing what to do means knowing your limitations and letting the experts be expert.

He did have film experience, though, since he, Danilova, and Dolin (?) were on set when they heard that Diaghilev had died. 

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Posted (edited)

Reading the Wikipedia entry on "West Side Story" gives some interestingly crazy, slightly bad faith, background – which could be a play in itself, if not a musical.

Originally WWS was a Romeo and Juliet story (Jerome Robbins's idea) about a Jewish girl and Roman Catholic boy set on the Lower East Side ("East Side Story"). The Jets were Catholic and anti-Semitic, the girl a survivor of the Holocaust. Later the musical was to be set in Los Angeles among Mexican American gangs on Olvera Street. Arthur Laurents. who wrote the book, said he was more comfortable setting the story among Puerto Ricans whom he was more familiar with – though he ended up coining their slang words rather than transcribing them (so that they wouldn't date). Jerome Robbins was happy that the musical had a "Latin beat." Stephen Sondheim originally wanted to write the music as well as the lyrics, but Laurents wouldn't go for that idea. Bernstein wrote some of the more florid lyrics but most of them were eventually dropped. (Bernstein was writing 'Candide' at the same time and some of songs were shuffled back and forth between the two works.) The credits were all over the place, Bernstein given the nod for some lyrics, Sondheim not wanting to be associated with them, Robbins claiming the concept – and no one speaking to him by opening night as a result. Rita Moreno was the only Puerto Rican cast member.

So maybe it's alright that the afterlife of West Side Story continues on in a like manner.

Edited by Quiggin

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7 hours ago, Quiggin said:

Rita Moreno was the only Puerto Rican cast member.

According to Forbidden Broadway --

🙈🙉🙊

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Posted (edited)

Queen Bey (or at least her choreographers) found some nice looks to try on in de Keersmaeker's closet.

Sarah Kaufman was fine with it, and I can't say I was particularly outraged either. 

Personally, I would have left West Side Story in mothballs and bankrolled a fresher and more challenging look at what divides / unites us. 

ETA: More

ETA: de Keersmaeker was fine with it too.

Edited by Kathleen O'Connell

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Posted (edited)
9 hours ago, On Pointe said:

It would be more interesting to me if Van Hove and De Keersmaeker created a new work.  They have no experience in staging a Broadway musical.  Of course there can be new productions of classics,  but I just don't think an all-Belgian team is the best choice for such a quintessentially  American show as West Side Story.  Van Hove has spoken about bringing it into the 21st century with new choreography,  but the music and lyrics presumably will stay the same.  Evidently choreography is disposable.

Thanks for the further explanation.

On the final point, I think the history of artistic adaptation would suggest that all elements are disposable — it just varies from adaptation to adaptation which particular elements are disposed of and to what degree.

In other words, I don't think this is an affront against the art of choreography; I think it's probably just a particular artistic decision with motivations that we won't be able to fully judge until the final product reaches the stage.

Edited by nanushka

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Posted (edited)
10 hours ago, On Pointe said:

II just don't think an all-Belgian team is the best choice for such a quintessentially  American show as West Side Story.  

Belgium suffers from many of the same ethnic, socioenomic, and urban/suburban tensions that the USA does. West Side Story's form—the Broadway Musical—is quintessentially American, but I'm going to guess that the basic contours of its story resonates pretty strongly with the current production's Belgian team. Romeo and Juliet maps on to any number of internecine conflicts for a reason: it's an old, old story.

West Side Story is pretty much historical fiction at this point: Hell's Kitchen has been gentrified, the gangs have relocated, and the fault lines have shifted. Personally, I think we need to be done with romanticizing and prettying up gang violence and organized crime in general. 

ETA: This doesn't mean that the current production team won't make a hash out of West Side Story. Broadway musicals have their own idiom, and it's one that not easy for someone from another tradition to speak with authority.

Edited by Kathleen O'Connell

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11 hours ago, Quiggin said:

Reading the Wikipedia entry on "West Side Story" gives some interestingly crazy, slightly bad faith, background – which could be a play in itself, if not a musical....

So maybe it's alright that the afterlife of West Side Story continues on in a like manner.

Absolutely!

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2 hours ago, Kathleen O'Connell said:

Belgium suffers from many of the same ethnic, socioenomic, and urban/suburban tensions that the USA does. West Side Story's form—the Broadway Musical—is quintessentially American, but I'm going to guess that the basic contours of its story resonates pretty strongly with the current production's Belgian team. Romeo and Juliet maps on to any number of internecine conflicts for a reason: it's an old, old story.

West Side Story is pretty much historical fiction at this point: Hell's Kitchen has been gentrified, the gangs have relocated, and the fault lines have shifted. Personally, I think we need to be done with romanticizing and prettying up gang violence and organized crime in general. 

ETA: This doesn't mean that the current production team won't make a hash out of West Side Story. Broadway musicals have their own idiom, and it's one that not easy for someone from another tradition to speak with authority.

WSS wasn't exactly searing realism back in the day. 

I hope Robbins at least gets due credit in the program and credits. Seems to me the score and book are potentially more dated than his choreography and less suited to a modern setting, but I guess they don't want to toss everything since their selling point is the familiar name of the old show.

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Posted (edited)
16 minutes ago, dirac said:

WSS wasn't exactly searing realism back in the day. 

I hope Robbins at least gets due credit in the program and credits. Seems to me the score and book are potentially more dated than his choreography and less suited to a modern setting, but I guess they don't want to toss everything since their selling point is the familiar name of the old show.

There's one reason the score ought to live on: a lot of Bernstein's devices are very useful for teaching some of the thornier bits of music theory. Want to explain what a hemiola is? Just sing "I Want to Be in America" while you clap out the eighth notes. Need an example of a tritone and its resolution? Sing "Maria." 

In all seriousness, it's a great score. 

The book and the lyrics, maybe not so much.

Edited by Kathleen O'Connell

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Since West Side Story doesn't have an original story, I do wonder why van Hove and de Keersmaeker [love how they both have 'aristocratic' surnames] didn't decide to do their own musical version of Romeo and Juliet instead of updating WSS.

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Posted (edited)
5 hours ago, Petra said:

Since West Side Story doesn't have an original story, I do wonder why van Hove and de Keersmaeker [love how they both have 'aristocratic' surnames] didn't decide to do their own musical version of Romeo and Juliet instead of updating WSS.

West Side Story was inspired by and loosely based on Romeo and Juliet, but it is very much its own story. The synopsis is here. A musical version of Romeo and Juliet would be quite different. Also, they're using the music and lyrics, so there's that. Presumably there's something about West Side Story itself that drew them to it. I would imagine that, if they haven't already, they may discuss what that was in media interviews leading up to the production's premiere.

Virtually all of Shakespeare's plays, of course, were themselves based on earlier stories, so if adaptations should naturally revert to the earliest "original" source, countless artistic adaptations created in the last 400 years would have turned out quite differently (or more likely never have been made). Presumably, something Shakespeare did with those earlier stories inspired the later adaptors to create a work in response; I assume the same is true in this case.

"Van," by the way, is not specifically a marker of an aristocratic name. (I believe the same is true of de in the context of Dutch and Flemish names.) The Flemish van does not have the same significance as the German von. Ludwig van Beethoven, for instance, was not of aristocratic origin (though he was at times wrongfully assumed to be), and although he was born and raised in Germany his family was of Flemish origin, hence his name.

Edited by nanushka

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22 hours ago, Kathleen O'Connell said:

In all seriousness, it's a great score. 

The book and the lyrics, maybe not so much.

It isn't so much the quality of the score as the style, I'm thinking - particularly the softer parts, which were already kind of sappy when the show was new. A lot would depend on if you're doing it as a period piece or trying to update it (or taking a more stylized approach or going for naturalism).

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8 hours ago, Petra said:

Since West Side Story doesn't have an original story, I do wonder why van Hove and de Keersmaeker [love how they both have 'aristocratic' surnames] didn't decide to do their own musical version of Romeo and Juliet instead of updating WSS.

Original musicals require lengthy commitment from the collaborators before they ever reach Broadway,  usually with development workshops,  out-of-town and off-Broadway productions first.  (Hamilton took seven years.)  This costs millions of dollars.   With all that,  only one show out of four makes back its investment.  And that's when the creators have years of experience and successful productions behind them.

It's much easier to mount a re-staging or an "update" of a classic.  West Side Story is a known entity,  with a built-in audience base.  There's already a certain amount of interest in the project,  even though some of it is negative.  (No such thing as bad publicity.)  

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