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Justin Peck to Choreograph Spielberg Remake of West Side Story


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Now that there’s a bit of video out there for “America,” can anybody tell if it reflects the Gennaro/Robbins choreography? The PR for the movie still says that Peck is “reimagining” the original choreography, and I have no idea if that means he’s adapting it for Spielberg’s camera or replacing it all with his own steps.

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I don't think that this section looks all that similar to the original Gennaro/Robbins choreography.  You can see recreations of the original in these videos of Debbie Allen (in the 1980 Revival) and Charlotte d'Amboise (Jerome Robbins' Broadway).  I think the section in the video would be the eights with the big sissone toward the end of the music:

 

 

 

I'm actually more curious about what Peck is going to do about the Dance at the Gym.  I don't think I've seen a major revival get very far away from the segue from the Mambo the "Maria" choreography with the back-to-back finger snaps.

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I know that Tony Kushner is a highly-acclaimed playwright,  but his contributions,  as heard in the trailers,  sound clunky and overwrought.  Also considering the kerfuffle over skin color in In the Heights,  the Sharks all look pretty lightskinned to me.  You can barely tell them from the Jets.  Fun fact,  there was one week when WSS and ITH were shooting only a block apart in Washington Heights.  Each director had to make sure that the one film's props and extras didn't end up in the other film's frame.

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Overwrought self-importance is a problem with the 1961 movie and both Spielberg and Kushner are more likely to double down on that rather than ease up on it. Neither man is known for his lightness of touch these days. Hope I’m wrong but this trailer does not inspire optimism.

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I'm disappointed that there isn't more of Justin Peck's choreography visible in the trailer.  Like the Dear Evan Hansen trailer,  it looks like they're trying to underplay the fact that these films are musicals,  which is crazy in the case of a show as well-known as West Side Story.

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If Peck doesn't get much attention from this I'll regard it as karmic justice, given that his dances are replacing those of Robbins, who thought up the whole project in the first place.

As I remember, the original movie of West Side Story was praised in just those terms, as being "more than a musical." I'm not sure how well known the property is these days, and they're probably trying to attract younger viewers who don't know WSS as a legacy show, so to speak, as well as people who do know its history.

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23 hours ago, dirac said:

Neither man is known for his lightness of touch ...

I left out "these days" to reflect my own thinking on Spielberg.  I imagine Justin Peck's choreography getting lost in all the restless production values – hot colors, big sets, camera movements, etc. Translating the stage musical and choreography to the screen is always problematic in that film basically a realistic medium. Its tendency is to document everything, major and minor, with a ruthless eye that gives every element an equivalent value, whereas on stage you only notice the magic, not the clunkiness of the sets and furniture and the awkwardness of physical space.  

Directors who might have been interesing choices: 1) small scale - someone like the Chantal Ackerman or Jacques Demy who in different ways would have separated the everday actions from the songs and dance, foregrounded Peck's choreography against simple backgrounds, thus making them discrete elements – two films checkerboarded or running in parallel. Or 2) big scale - Martin Scorsese, who has a subtler sense of the craft and better understanding of cinematic values than Speilberg.  Even Julian Schnabel would have been a more sober choice and would have cooled everything down a couple of notches. 

Edited by Quiggin
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Translating the stage musical and choreography to the screen is always problematic in that film basically a realistic medium. Its tendency is to document everything, major and minor, with a ruthless eye that gives every element an equivalent value, whereas on stage you only notice the magic, not the clunkiness of the sets and furniture and the awkwardness of physical space.  

The 1961 movie shifted uneasily between the stylized and realistic and ended by falling between two stools. I would not be stunned if that happens with this version also. 

One  difference is that the first movie was not a period piece -- some critics thought it really had something to say about contemporary young people and gang life  --and this one is set almost seventy years ago, when WSS was new.

I think the Spielberg who made E.T. might have been a reasonable choice, although I get what you're saying. I'm not sure I'd choose Scorsese in any era, not because he wouldn't have an interesting take on this New York story but he'd want a different kind of score, most likely, and not unreasonably.

I might nominate the young Spike Lee, who was crazy for vivid colors and movement and also had American racial/ethnic urban tensions as his subject.

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