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

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I hope no cast members lose their jobs.  When a new choreographer is brought in to a Broadway show,  very often they replace some or all of the dancers with their favorites.  While this is unpleasant,  it does make sense.  With time and money running out,  it's helpful to the choreographer to have dancers familiar with their process and able to deliver their vision.  Van Hove and De Keersmaeker made a big deal out of seeking out contemporary dancers with no Broadway background,  which sounds bold and innovative,  but it's hard to think of any endeavor that is improved by having an inexperienced workforce.  

Speaking of inexperience,  only a director who doesn't understand how Broadway shows work would cut I Feel Pretty.  Good thing it's back in.  For the last revival on Broadway,  which was largely faithful to the original,  the producers brought on Lin-Manuel Miranda to provide Spanish lyrics to I Feel Pretty and other songs.   Although they had Stephen Sondheim's approval,  audiences rejected the changes and the English lyrics were restored.

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On 7/17/2019 at 6:44 AM, nanushka said:

"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.

"Van" is very pedestrian: "from the" or "of the" with, typically, the name of a town following. Both Dutch and Flemish.  The upper case Van is a common Americanization of the last name. Europeans use lower case van. (Source: family members with van names...)

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Hmmm, there are Belgian figure skaters who capitalize the "v" in "van"/"Van," like Kevin Van der Perren.

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3 minutes ago, Helene said:

Hmmm, there are Belgian figure skaters who capitalize the "v" in "van"/"Van," like Kevin Van der Perren.

Yeah, in my experience the capitalization varies quite a lot on both sides of the Atlantic.

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22 minutes ago, Helene said:

Hmmm, there are Belgian figure skaters who capitalize the "v" in "van"/"Van," like Kevin Van der Perren.

No doubt! Whether or not to capitalize is a personal choice. I know  European-born American citizens who kept the lower case despite living for decades in North America. And plenty of Europeans take it upon themselves to un-Americanize the name of someone who capitalizes, as if they know better. My rule of thumb: each person gets to decide whether to capitalize or not.

Please also note that many copy editors take it upon themselves to decide what they think is correct. Wikipedia thinks Kevin should be van der Perren:   https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Kevin_van_der_Perren

I wouldn't be surprised if some sports writers decide for themselves that this is wrong and capitalize. Kevin should get to decide for himself.

There's actually a corollary to this: in Europe, they alphabetize under the second (or third) name, not the van. In North America, the reverse: alphabetize under Van. But again, I can think of a Dutch-born academic who has lived in the US most of his adult life who kept the lower case van and alphabetizes with the second name. His choice.

(I come from a family of "vans" so we have been keenly interested in this trivia.)

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The audience reviews from the first previews of Van Hove's WSS are being posted on Broadway forums.  Bearing in mind that the show is still in rough shape,  and cast members are still developing their roles,  in the main the response is very positive.  I Feel Pretty has not (yet?) been restored and neither has Robbins' choreography.  The show currently runs about an hour and forty-five minutes,  with no intermission,  so there have been cuts.

Van Hove seems not to trust women to hold the stage.  WSS was already a male-centric show.  But by cutting I Feel Pretty,  eliminating female dancers from Cool, and adding men to America (which the film did as well),  he's guaranteeing that his production is not going to pass the Bechdel Test*.  There is also a rape scene so graphic that several audience members walked out.

The only cast performance mentioned by name is Isaac Powell's as Tony,  a role that in my opinion is the weakest in the show and difficult to make memorable,  but he's getting absolute raves from early viewers.  However there is a segment of the Broadway audience that absolutely despises Amar Ramasar,  to a degree that borders on irrational.  They are accused of hijacking every discussion about the show.  They are even urging people to boo him at his curtain call.  They are touting female performers who claim to feel "unsafe" just knowing he's in the building,  and they aren't even in the cast.  Alexandra Waterbury popped up in the NY Post yesterday (described as a "city ballerina") declaring that Ramasar should be on a sex offenders list.

From many years working on Broadway and in professional theater,  I can assure these snowflakes that however egregious you believe Ramasar's behavior has been,  it's very small beer compared to the transgressions of many others,  including some highly-celebrated figures.  Their protests seem way out of proportion,  especially considering the fact that the main culprit never seems to be named or shamed. 

*A scene passes the Bechdel test if there are two or more women having an earnest discussion that is not about a man.

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The book and the lyrics, maybe not so much.

I remember reading somewhere that Robbins, Bernstein, and Sondheim regarded Laurents' book as the most underrated contribution to the success of the show.

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Posted (edited)

West Side Story breaks box office record for the second time. They may never open, and may never need to for financial reasons.

I saw this WSS last weekend. Excellent cast, though I didn't particularly like the production. For one, their take on Maria is too sexually knowing for me (beautiful soprano voice). Regardless of Sondheim's dislike of I Feel Pretty, it establishes Maria as an innocent and it's still cut. Strangely, I don't miss it as much as I miss the Somewhere Ballet. There were some really nice moments, and only a few duds... No balcony (perhaps it's still being built?) There is von Hove's signature film/video aspect, which helps because you can't see into Doc's or the dress shop where Maria and Anita work. Riff is the weakest of the excellent singers, but he's a great dancer/actor and amazing to watch. Overall the acting is good. The Anita is quite good. The Tony understudy is fabulous (Isaac Powell hurt his knee). Amar Ramasar is great. I'm not sure the pacing works, but the biggest issue is that Maria needs someplace to live onstage. It's weird that she plays her home scenes in an open area. Aside from Doc's and the Dress Shop there is no set. When Tony comes to see Maria she should be at home with her dad (or someone!) calling from offstage. Instead they kneel on the floor. When the police officer comes to question Maria after the Rumble, she needs to be trapped at home, unable to get to Tony. I know I'm attached to the original, but those scenes didn't make sense.

Mostly I hope they go further with the re-imagining. de Keersmaker's strongest moments are when she uses the group to make an image that reflects the story: the two gangs pulling Tony and Maria apart, the three dead bodies borne aloft. I wish there had been more of that. Still, they're in previews and it's probably unfair of me to say anything. Maybe it's like Tony says... Somethin's coming, don't know when but it's soon.

https://www.broadwayworld.com/article/WEST-SIDE-STORY-Has-Broken-All-Time-Broadway-Theatre-House-Record-20191230

Edited by BalanchineFan

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West Side Story is racking up the casualties,  which was predictable given the use of water on the stage surface,  and possibly because the dancers are inexperienced in performing eight times a week.  In some recent performances,  there have been more than six understudies on stage (who seem to be excellent according to audience members).  Isaac Powell who plays Tony has sustained a knee injury that has him on crutches and out of the show for now.  Ben Cook,  who played Riff,  was injured so badly during the rumble that he has been replaced by Dharon E. Jones,  which frankly makes little sense to me.

In his conception of WSS,  Van Hove has integrated the Jets.  Dharon Jones is black.  The idea that there would be a mixed street gang betrays a profound ignorance of American racial dynamics.  Van Hove has said that he wanted to make a statement about Americans being anti-immigrant.  But in the original concept of the show,  the Jets were made up of white kids of recent immigrant origin.  There's even a line about Tony -  real name Anton - being Polish.  (Isaac Powell is a biracial African American but probably reads white from the stage.  Ironically,  Puerto Ricans are American citizens at birth and not immigrants at all.)  As a black American myself,  I find the notion that black kids would unite with white kids against Puerto Ricans,  who are of mixed black,  white and native ancestry,  not credible in the least.  Street gangs weren't integrated in the 1950s and they aren't integrated now.  (Not to mention the fact that most Americans are not anti-immigrant.)  Perhaps someone who has seen the show can comment on how that works out visually.

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23 minutes ago, On Pointe said:

 ...given the use of water on the stage surface...

Could you elaborate on how water is being used? I can recall seeing photos of Mariinsky students with watering cans sprinkling water on classroom floors, with the explanation that they needed to get used to such things. Is that what's going on?

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3 hours ago, California said:

Could you elaborate on how water is being used? I can recall seeing photos of Mariinsky students with watering cans sprinkling water on classroom floors, with the explanation that they needed to get used to such things. Is that what's going on?

My old ballet teacher used to have us sprinkle water on the wooden studio floors at the start of class,  because of tradition and because she disliked the use of rosin.  But there is simulated rainfall in WSS.  There is a considerable amount of water on the stage,  and people who have seen the show have warned that audience members in the first few rows are bound to get wet.  The choreography calls for sliding in the water.  I hope the dancers are getting hazard pay!

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26 minutes ago, On Pointe said:

My old ballet teacher used to have us sprinkle water on the wooden studio floors at the start of class,  because of tradition and because she disliked the use of rosin.  But there is simulated rainfall in WSS.  There is a considerable amount of water on the stage,  and people who have seen the show have warned that audience members in the first few rows are bound to get wet.  The choreography calls for sliding in the water.  I hope the dancers are getting hazard pay!

Kind of a Singing in the Rain thing - on a Broadway stage? Yikes!

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6 hours ago, California said:

Kind of a Singing in the Rain thing - on a Broadway stage? Yikes!

Well, there was rain in the Broadway version of Singing in the Rain.  It's become something that people can do, but it does up the hazard.

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Broadway fans are starting to call WSS "Spider Man",  after the infamous doomed musical that took out actor after actor with serious injuries during its lengthy previews.  At some performances Tony,  Maria,  Riff and Anita have all been played by understudies.  According to viewers,  the onstage rain lasts for about forty minutes!  At some point in the near future,  I expect that Actors Equity will have to demand that the producers take the health and safety of the performers more seriously and cut back on the use of water in the show.  (I really would like to know how it works,  from a stage management point of view.)

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Shades of Vollmund!

Honestly, 40 minutes of onstage rain sounds like an effect intended to wow the audience rather than tell the story. It doesn't even sound interesting as theater (although like On Pointe, I do want to know how it works).

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21 hours ago, On Pointe said:

In his conception of WSS,  Van Hove has integrated the Jets.  Dharon Jones is black.  The idea that there would be a mixed street gang betrays a profound ignorance of American racial dynamics.  Van Hove has said that he wanted to make a statement about Americans being anti-immigrant.  But in the original concept of the show,  the Jets were made up of white kids of recent immigrant origin.

One of my eyebrows shot way, way up when I read about Van Hove's plan to integrate the Jets. It betrays his ignorance about New York City, too—one of the most diverse places on earth that still manages to be profoundly segregated along racial, ethnic, cultural, socio-economic and religious lines. 

It's also not a prime locus of anti-immigrant sentiment: in 2006, 37% of the city's population was foreign born. U.S. Anti-immigrant sentiment is strongest in locations where there aren't many immigrants. There are tensions between NYC's various racial, ethnic, and religious communities, but they aren't "anti-immigrant" in the classic sense.

And, in case it wasn't mentioned anywhere above, Puerto Ricans are natural-born American citizens; they aren't immigrants anymore than someone who moves from a dying rust-belt town to a coastal metropolis looking for better opportunities is an immigrant.

ETA: There are important and compelling stories that could and should be told about race and ethnicity in America and about gang culture, too—but it doesn't sound like Van Hove is interested in telling one of those stories. And more to the point, I'm not convinced that WSS is, could be, or should be the vehicle to tell it in the first place. I'm concerned that out-of-town visitors will leave the theater convinced that they're somehow getting the straight skinny on race in America and gang culture in NYC.

Edited by Kathleen O'Connell

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16 hours ago, On Pointe said:

According to viewers,  the onstage rain lasts for about forty minutes!  At some point in the near future,  I expect that Actors Equity will have to demand that the producers take the health and safety of the performers more seriously and cut back on the use of water in the show.  (I really would like to know how it works,  from a stage management point of view.)

Miles Pertl included about 15 minutes of serious mist effects in his recent Shades of Gray for Pacific Northwest Ballet.  There were a couple of sliding injuries in the process, and he modified some of the choreography to keep things safer, but it is possible.  And honestly, it was a stunning effect.

9 hours ago, Kathleen O'Connell said:

Honestly, 40 minutes of onstage rain sounds like an effect intended to wow the audience rather than tell the story. It doesn't even sound interesting as theater (although like On Pointe, I do want to know how it works).

I'm told it's a lot like the mister that you find in the produce section of the grocery store.

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3 minutes ago, sandik said:

I'm told it's a lot like the mister that you find in the produce section of the grocery store.

When I first read this, I thought "the mister" was like "The Mister" who's been dispatched to the grocery store by "The Little Woman" and is on a quest for kiwi fruit. 😉

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But how do they keep the water from seeping under the stage?  Mist is one thing,  rain is another.  How do they collect the water and dry the stage for the next show?

I was in a classic show where there was a heavy mist effect in the opening.  It looked spectacular,  but the chemicals used to create it didn't feel safe to be breathing in at all.  After a while they cut down on the mist and achieved a similar look  with lighting.  Directors can be very cavalier about the risks to the performers when they get heavily invested in their vision for a show.  Most of the WSS cast is made up of youngsters making their Broadway debuts.  They might be reticent about insisting that their safety be prioritized,  and probably aren't aware that they can and should make a complaint to Actors Equity.

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NYCO did a production of Akhnaten in which there was a pretty big pool of water in one of the downstage corners.  I assumed they used a liner of sorts.   Pilobolus used to do a piece where they put down some kind of plastic sheet, drenched it, and the dancers slid across it.  They went on tour with it, so they had to have some way of not destroying theater after theater.

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2 hours ago, On Pointe said:

But how do they keep the water from seeping under the stage?  Mist is one thing,  rain is another.  How do they collect the water and dry the stage for the next show?

I remember when Singing in the Rain was first produced, there was a lot of discussion about the technical aspects of the show.  And then they took it on tour, so it had to be waterproof and mobile.  I don't know details, but I'm willing to believe it's technically possible.  Performer safety is another thing.

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3 hours ago, Kathleen O'Connell said:

When I first read this, I thought "the mister" was like "The Mister" who's been dispatched to the grocery store by "The Little Woman" and is on a quest for kiwi fruit. 😉

oh snap!

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When it comes to water on stage, does anybody else remember Andriessen's “Writing to Vermeer” at the State Theater? Very striking, but I just couldn’t stop worrying about the singers’ vocal equipment. 

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