WEST SIDE STORY Revival
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Review Roundup: WEST SIDE STORY Opens On Broadway - See What the Critics Are Saying!

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Review Roundup: WEST SIDE STORY Opens On Broadway - See What the Critics Are Saying!

Tonight, tonight! Tony Award winner Ivo van Hove's new production of West Side Story opens tonight at the Broadway Theatre.

Directed by Tony-winner Ivo van Hove, the show stars Isaac Powell, who played Daniel in the recent Tony-winning revival of ONCE ON THIS ISLAND, as Tony, and Juilliard student Shereen Pimentel as the show's other star-crossed lover, Maria. Pimentel was last seen on Broadway as Young Nala in THE LION KING.

Also in the company are Yesenia Ayala as Anita, Amar Ramasar as Bernardo, Dharon E. Jones as Riff, Zuri Noelle Ford as Anybodys, Jacob Guzman as Chino, and more. The show will feature 32 Broadway debuts, and will mark the first Broadway production for choreographer Anne Teresa de Keersmaeker.

Along with de Keersmaeker and his frequent design collaborator Jan Versweyveld, van Hove promises a radical, thrilling new interpretation of the iconic show, which features a book by Arthur Laurents, music by Leonard Bernstein, and lyrics by Stephen Sondheim.


Ben Brantley, The New York Times: I was hopeful when, in the production's opening moments, the gang members filed onto the front of the vast, empty stage and looked dead-eyed into the audience. You could imagine any of these able-bodied young brawlers being a deadly weapon all by himself. Then those big, projected close-ups begin. (Luke Halls did the video design.) And as the camera caresses each photogenic face, the men's tattoos start to look less like don't-mess-with-me emblems of tribal membership and more like fashion choices. We might have stumbled into a casting call for a Calvin Klein fragrance ad ("Rough - for the man who likes it that way"). Soon, they all start to sing and dance - and occasionally exchange dialogue that in this context sounds terminally quaint. And the impression is no longer of angry young things on the brink of catastrophic explosion.

Michael Dale, BroadwayWorld: The revival of West Side Story that opened tonight on Broadway is being touted as a 21st Century reinvention of the musical, with director Ivo van Hove discussing in interviews the random senselessness of racism and violence, disregarding how the material so specifically reflected the era it came from. While new artists should be encouraged to interpret older plays and musicals differently from their predecessors, especially a piece like West Side Story which, through its Broadway revivals and extremely popular film version, has been tied to visuals invented by Robbins (the snapping fingers, the balletic interpretation of violence), there is such a thing as having fresh concepts clash with the material, diluting its effectiveness.

Jesse Oxfeld, The Times of London: "Something's coming," screamed the ads plastered throughout New York newspapers and magazines. "Something good." It was a clever repurposing of the classic lyric for marketing purposes, but the claim seemed perhaps boastful. West Side Story, the beloved mid-20th century musical take on Romeo and Juliet, was indeed coming back to Broadway. But freighted with a radical reinterpretation and several bumps along its way to opening night, it was far less clear that it would be any good. As it turns out, this West Side Story is excellent. Staged in moody, damp shadows, with a multiethnic and heavily tattooed cast and new dances that evoke but (mostly) don't replicate Jerome Robbins's balletic originals, it is neither nostalgic nor prettified.

Elysa Gardner, New York Stage Review: Watching fog rise off the stage, and listening to what sounded like a faint rumble in between certain songs, I was reminded of a colleague's comment that the Belgian director likes to stage the subtext of plays-and of how I irritated I was by the tics and tricks in some of his previous New York efforts. Not so here. Most notably, scenic and lighting designer Jan Versweyveld, van Hove's longtime collaborator, has teamed with video designer Luke Halls to make the latter aspect central to this production. An enormous screen projects both live and pre-recorded images, threatening to overshadow the actors at times but also providing vivid insights, not all of them dark. During "The Jet Song," we see the different individuals in the gang preening and clowning through the streets, even as the young men glower as a collective.

Michael Sommers, New York Stage Review: The relentless misery of the director's gloomy interpretation of the musical scarcely allows for any contrasting moments of joy or sweetness as Tony and Maria discover each other and fall in love. The show's most striking moments are those involving conflict, as when an embracing Tony and Maria literally are torn away from each other by the opposing gangs. Something should be said about the performances, but there's little to mention except that everybody, lead players and ensemble members, render their character's music, motions, and emotions capably enough. The shows that van Hove directs usually are cool in temperature, and this one is no exception. No hot young stars blaze forth in the production's damp firmament here.

Robert Hofler, The Wrap: Musical theater traditionalists may be aghast. For me, this "West Side Story" is by far the toughest and therefore the best I've ever seen, and that includes the 1964 movie, the 1980 and 2009 Broadway revivals, as well as a few other productions seen around the world. For all of this show's technical wizardy, van Hove also achieves a musical miracle with his actors: He turns the star-crossed lovers Tony (Isaac Powell) and Maria (Shereen Pimentel) into very real rebels, and, in the process, he eradicates their cardboard Romeo and Juliet pedigree, which, in my opinion, is the major flaw of Arthur Laurents' book.

Charles McNulty, Los Angeles Times: Long ago, I was enthralled by Van Hove's deconstructions of Eugene O'Neill, Tennessee Williams and Henrik Ibsen at New York Theatre Workshop. But since this iconoclastic director won a Tony for his staging of "A View From the Bridge," he has been operating less like a daring artisan than a factory for a multinational company. But this intrepid reworking of "West Side Story" marks more than a return to form for Van Hove. The production, which set its official opening for Thursday at the Broadway Theatre, restores the vitality to a musical that can seem ersatz and lumbering when treated like a museum piece.

Johnny Oleksinski, The New York Post: By pushing back against what we remember from the Oscar-winning 1961 film, a musical that many can recite line-by-line becomes newly suspenseful and gripping. It's still the "Romeo and Juliet"-inspired story of Tony (Isaac Powell) of the Jets gang, and Maria (Shereen Pimentel), the sister of the rival Sharks gang leader, Bernardo (Amar Ramasar). The couple meets during a dance at the gym and, at great risk to themselves, fall in love. But every step in this well-worn plot comes as a startling surprise, starting with the gangs themselves. As we watch during Leonard Bernstein's booming "Prologue," when a camera pans across the cast's faces, the racially specific animus (Puerto Ricans versus the Polish and Irish) is largely gone. It's still there in Arthur Laurents' book and Stephen Sondheim's lyrics, but in an effort to reflect modern-day New York and its evolving conflicts, the casting is totally diverse - and devastatingly young.

Marilyn Stasio, Variety: There's no doubt that the sensibility has shifted in this revival, but not enough to seem theatrically radical. Although we no longer seem to be in the 50s, the modern elements are mainly structural, like the gigantic scenic projections (designed by Luke Halls) on the back wall. At first they seem intrusive, more aggressive than enlightening because they're competing with, and often overwhelming, the stage action below. They become integral to the show only when they reveal things we can't see for ourselves, like the confidential exchanges between Maria and Anita in the back room of Doc's Drugstore, and the electrifying night run that Tony takes on the rain-slicked streets of Hell's Kitchen.

Jerry Portwood, Rolling Stone: So how and, more importantly, why do you re-stage the musical on Broadway in 2020? For Belgian director Ivo van Hove - an outsider who has an uncanny ability to see past the tired tropes of classics (The Crucible, A View From the Bridge) and focus on their essence - the ethnic tensions and tale of a divided society at the heart of West Side Story needed to be dismantled and reimagined for our current sensibility. And after years of preparation and millions of dollars, he has done it brilliantly. This new staging of the classic - with Anne Teresa De Keersmaeker's powerful new choreography and Jan Versweyveld's stunning minimal scenic and lighting design - is fantastic.

Chris Jones, The NY Daily News:To put all that together, Van Hove has deconstructed the usual pieces of "West Side Story" in service of better targeting the show's gooey, throbbing, omnisexual center: the truth that love is not only the fiercest human weapon against sectarian violence but the only real reason to live. No moment exemplifies that intent than a stunner of a sequence following "The Dance at the Gym," wherein a sensually smitten Tony (Isaac Powell) and Maria (Shereen Pimentel) strain to reach each other as they are held back by what looks and feels like two teams in a human tug of war. Anyone who has seen many a "West Side" has experienced leads with no particular connection: In this production, their need for each other is so visceral as to overwhelm everything and everyone around them. In this production's take on "Somewhere," their feeling metastasizes with such force that everyone writhes around on the stage floor with a lover of their own choosing. Add in Van Hove's macabre talent for articulating pending tragic disaster (as seen so vividly in his "A View From the Bridge") and the result is a gripping "West Side" that you watch with both an appreciation for the power of the young and in love, and a profound sense of all-American doom.

Leah Greenblatt, Entertainment Weekly: For all its high-concept minimalism, the production tends to tackle certain themes, like immigration and police brutality, with a literalism that borders on cliché: stock footage of Puerto Rico to match the "tropical breezes" bits in "America," and rippling stars and stripes when it crosses over; a pair of grizzled cop characters who feel both malevolent and silly in their central-casting bravado. (The iPhone cameras that several gang members hold aloft when one of those officers threatens to get rough conveys the message far more effectively, without saying a word).

Matt Windman, amNY: I may spend the rest of my life trying to make sense of Ivo van Hove's reconcieved and avant-garde, rough and raw revival of "West Side Story." In spite of many interesting ideas, it is a muddled, self-conscious, pretentious, humorless, dizzying, bewildering mess, in which the show's memorable songs and youthful romance get lost in the midst of brutal violence and overwhelming video imagery.

Greg Evans, Deadline: With scenic and lighting design by van Hove's longtime collaborator Jan Versweyveld, and video projections by Luke Halls that more than bolster the argument for finally giving that art its very own Tony Award category, this West Side Story fills the massive performing space at the Broadway Theatre with non-stop movement both on the stage and on the drive-in theater-size screen behind it. Small flourishes hold their own against grand visual statements: When Tony (Isaac Powell) and Maria (Shereen Pimentel) sing to one another as they lean against a mirror, their breath frosts the glass in momentary designs (a lovely detail we see courtesy of van Hove's trademark video cameras). When rain falls through much of the final act, the downpour, soaking the stage and beautifully lit by Versweyveld, creates a cinematic effect that only a dancer wary of slipping could begrudge.

Tim Teeman, The Daily Beast: However, most shockingly, van Hove's West Side Story is not shocking; it is tame and impatiently brisk, having ejected songs like "I Feel Pretty." It is also a strange mélange of the good, bad, and baffling-especially in what it seeks to coherently say (or sing, when it comes to "Gee, Officer Krupke") about the hot-button issues of 2020 it zeroes in on, like racism, immigration, and police brutality. Its engagement with those issues-more on this below-comes to feel lazy and manipulative, rather than shocking or shattering.

Bob Miller, ABC14 News: Rather, in Belgian director Ivo van Hove's finger-snapping-free staging, there's a gigantic movie wall behind a mainly spare stage, contemporary apparel and a ferocity not observed given that the musical's 1957 premiere, when The Post's Richard Watts Jr. called it the tale of "the ugliness and horror of a war to the dying among the boys." With that in thoughts, van Hove's visceral acquire is spot-on for 2020. As very long as kids are still getting born into a "lousy" entire world, "West Side Story" should not be a journey down memory lane - it must be uncooked and real.

Diane Snyder, The Telegraph: Not many musicals get to be ground-breaking 63 years after their Broadway premiere. But the enterprising Belgian director Ivo van Hove's reimagined West Side Story is a marvelous surprise. This classic American musical inspired by Romeo and Juliet comes alive in a production bursting with frenetic energy, passion, pathos and those glorious Leonard Bernstein-Stephen Sondheim songs. It's a stunning achievement for van Hove, known for deconstructions of celebrated works such as A View From the Bridge and Network.

Nicole Serratore, The Stage: This is the first US production not to use Jerome Robbins' iconic choreography. In its place choreographer Anne Teresa De Keersmaeker creates frenetic energy using gymnastic flips and hints of breakdancing. Even though some of the elements feel strained, Van Hove's production successfully refreshes this classic by treating it as something both monumental and mortal.

Helen Shaw, Vulture: Dominated by an IMAX-size projection wall showing all manner of video - a live feed of actors on- or backstage, pre-shot film of New York streets at night - the production seems perversely gifted at finding the exact mode that will interfere with each moment and intention. There are certainly a few fine elements in the show, and Maria (Shereen Pimentel) and Tony (Isaac Powell) - clear, sweet-voiced, unaffected - do their iconic parts proud. Powell's superb Tony vibrates with energy and puppyish optimism; his rendition of "Maria" is revelatory, a show-and-heart-stopper. If Pimentel's Maria seems less able to escape the show's occasional sabotage, her soprano is keenly lovely, a silvery fretwork above the rest of the ensemble's brassy, swaggering noise.

David Rooney, The Hollywood Reporter: It says something about the supreme power of flesh-and-blood people portraying raw human feeling on stage, without the filter of another medium, that the most emotionally devastating and visually stunning moment in the radical new Broadway revival of West Side Story occurs when its extensive video elements are stripped away. That happens in the coup de théâtre at the musical's climax, as a torrential downpour fills the immense darkness of the stage while a shattered young woman cradles her dead lover's body. Like many big-swing experimental bids to reimagine a canonical work, director Ivo van Hove's vigorously youthful take on the 1957 classic comes with losses and gains, but the latter are what you'll remember.

Adrian Horton, The Guardian: an Hove's West Side Story, produced by Scott Rudin, makes a lot of gambles in moving the show from mid-century Upper West Side to somewhere in 2020 New York (still the same area, according to the program, though its minimalist style and backdrop of empty, graffitied streets suggest elsewhere). The characters have Soundcloud rapper-esque face tattoos and iPhones; mini-dresses and body-con streetwear replace full skirts, while fluid Latinx-influenced dances sub for the original's ballet-based choreography. The production keeps the original book by Arthur Laurents with music and lyrics by Leonard Bernstein and Stephen Sondheim, though cuts I Feel Pretty and the intermission, thus running a brisk, bracing hour and 45 minutes straight.

Jeremy Gerard, Theater News Online: Van Hove's West Side Story isn't bad solely because he subverts the live action to video images and minimizes the living, churning story at hand. He's compressed the show to a single unbroken act of 105 minutes, eliminating material that allows the story to breathe. That crucial oxygen was originally supplied by book writer Arthur Laurents, composer Bernstein, director/choreographer Jerome Robbins and, at the time, novice lyricist Stephen Sondheim. Collaboration, as Sondheim stresses in his own recounting of the show's gestation in Finishing the Hat, was central to making all the elements merge into that most memorable whole.

Adam Feldman, Time Out New York: Like much of Ivo van Hove's bold, often thrilling production, this opening sequence is big and small at once. Throughout the show, live sequences coexist or alternate with filmed ones, including many that occur offstage entirely; detail is blown up into spectacle, and spectacle is subsumed into detail. Van Hove's West Side Story functions very differently from any we have seen before. If the result is sometimes murky, it is also frequently revelatory-a major accomplishment in a show whose status as a classic threatens to freeze it in time and relevance.

Roma Torre, NY1: I'm all for reimagining the classics through a modern lens, but Ivo van Hove took the notion literally when he added cameras to his staging of West Side Story, and transformed the Jerome Robbins/Leonard Bernstein/Arthur Laurents/Stephen Sondheim masterwork into an audacious hybrid of performance art. Gone is Jerome Robbins iconic choreography - the finger snaps, the ingenious mesh of ballet and modern dance - replaced by the geometric movements of choreographer Anne Teresa de Keersmaeker. In this shortened version, we don't know if Maria feels all that pretty, the song is dropped along with the intermission. Rest assured though, Bernstein's magnificent score is mostly intact.

David Cote, 4Columns: But does this chilly, imported formalism and multimedia dramaturgy work against the old-fashioned, melodramatic source? Yes, if you accept that Van Hove and De Keersmaeker, along with video designer Luke Halls and Versweyveld on lights and set, are not building a naturalistic, narcotizing illusion, but treating each scene like a technical and ideological puzzle that happens to include gorgeous music and charismatic young performers. Then you can begin to appreciate the tension.


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