After a somewhat troubled and controversial preview period, Ivo Van Hove's startling and supremely satisfying production of West Side Story has finally barreled onto Broadway. Much has been made of this stripped down, streamlined version with its song cuts, video projections and deluge. Purists will probably hate it, then go right back to bemoaning that old musicals need to be updated. Like so many classics, from Shakespeare to Chekhov, Broadway has played host to radical reinventions for centuries. What is new this time around is that American musicals are now old enough to be done in modern dress, while still retaining the words (most of them) and music (most of it) of a bygone time. That said, the biting realism of this show almost makes last season's equally superb Oklahoma! seem pedestrian. What do they say these days? Oklahoma! walked so West Side Story could run.
Still, nothing about this is not true to West Side Story, really. The darkness has always been there; it has never before been so pointed and, well, harsh. This is a West Side Story that not only plays out the tragedy of Tony and Maria, but also the ongoing tragedy of systemic racism and yet another generation lost to violence. For the first time, too, we finally have women that are given full agency; they are strong and fighting just as hard to survive. These are not girls who function as arm candy or who spend their evenings prissing around after work. It's not about feeling pretty or being sexy, it's about knowing what they want and going after it. Here, Anita is as brash as ever, but Maria is just as sassy. She is ready for this world and doesn't have to feel pretty. She already knows it. No, the women have not been erased, rather they make bold, often silent, but wholly necessary contributions.
|"The Dance at the Gym" - Yasenia Ayala (center)
Jordan Dobson (Tony) and Mia Pinero (Maria)
At the performance we attended, both Isaac Powell and Shereen Pimentel were out of the show, but we had the great fortune to see Jordan Dobson (Tony) and Mia Pinero (Maria), both making their Broadway debuts. Both were absolutely stunning, in virtuoso performances. Their chemistry was palpable and their singing was flawless. Tears flow from my eyes; I have never felt West Side Story so deeply before.
The show has always been a favorite of mine - I've been in it and directed it - and I'd go so far as to say it one of the greatest musicals of all time, if not the greatest. But it is no exaggeration on my part to say that this production moved me, angered me and overwhelmed me in unexpected ways. And I've thought of little else in the month since I saw it.
📸: J. Cervantes, J. Versweyveld, J. Kyler