Review: WEST SIDE STORY at Château Du Karreveld

A French-language version of the timeless classic

By: Aug. 27, 2023
Review: WEST SIDE STORY at Château Du Karreveld

Review: WEST SIDE STORY at Château Du Karreveld After venturing into British musicals with Blood Brothers in 2021 and Viennese musical theater with Elisabeth last year, the Bruxellons! Festival is getting back to Broadway with a completely new take on West Side Story, arguably the best musical ever—certainly the best-known and most well-loved one in Europe. The show has come close to over-exposure during the past few years, mainly due to the brilliant Steven Spielberg remake for the big screen, which was well worth the wait even though it flopped at the box office. Review: WEST SIDE STORY at Château Du Karreveld

An American tour is scheduled for a run at Châtelet, and there have been modern takes at the Opéra du Rhin and Orléans, following successful mountings in Leicester and Manchester. Of all these contemporary productions that depart from the original staging and choreography by Jerome Robbins, the only one I've seen the disastrous 2013 Broadway revival, staged by Belgian director Ivo van Hove and choreographed by fellow Belgian Anna Teresa De Keersmaeker.  It eliminated “I Feel Pretty”, added much more violence, and cut the whole piece down to one 90-minute act with mostly hip hop and Latin dance—choices which all failed despite the uncredited efforts of Sergio Trujillo, who was called in last moment to try to save the mess! 

So I’m very happy that Bruxellons! has given us—through a labor of love, as usual, by director and co-producer Daniel Hanssens and director and co-choreographer Kylian Campbell with Antoine Pedros as associate urban choreographer—a new perspective on the classic without ever distorting its essence. The dancing is definitely more contemporary in its floorwork and its elaborate lifts, but it still incorporates Jerome Robbins’s trademark vocabulary, while the believable staging of the fights by Bertrand Daine leans towards the realism of the Spielberg movie.Review: WEST SIDE STORY at Château Du Karreveld  

The de-structured set design by Philippe Miesch, lighting by Laurent Kaye, and costumes by Béatrice Guilleaume also depart from the original production.  Great credit must be given to Stéphane Laporte for his remarkable French translations, even though the French lyrics might sometimes sound more sentimental than the originals. The lyrics to “America”, “Cool”, “Gee, Officer Krupke” are very politically aware and nothing short of brilliant, as are those for “A Boy Like That” and “I Have a Love”, the real climax of the score and perhaps the best duet of musical theater history.

Attention is paid to detail, especially with the police checking the bodies of the murder victims during intermission, keeping the audience in the action even when the lights are out! 

But the greatest strength of this top-notch production is its excellent cast, particularly Kaplyn, who brings to life the difficult character of Tony better than anyone before him, whether on screen or on stage. Taking an actor’s approach more than a singer’s, he takes us on a personal journey with, in the role of Maria, the equally brilliant Romina Palmeri (from the Conservatoire de Bruxelles), who saved the day last year taking over the lead in Elisabeth on short notice.Review: WEST SIDE STORY at Château Du Karreveld  

As always, Marina Pangos steals the show, blending anger, strength, and vulnerability into her unique portrayal of Anita, notwithstanding her spectacular singing and dancing ability. Belgian Bart Aerts, already familiar to the part of Riff, and Loaï Rahman (trained in Nantes) have commanding presences as the two gang leaders of the Jets and the Sharks. Special mention goes to American-born Bruce Ellison as Doc, who gets the Rita Moreno treatment in his delivery of “Somewhere”, bringing the show down to earth against the dream ballet, which incidentally didn’t appear in either movie version. 

The supporting cast is faultless as well, and the orchestra, protected from potential rain, also does an amazing job. 

As always, Olivier Moerens, Jack Cooper and the entire Bruxellons! team of cast and crew have given us a treat in the hansome site of the Château de Karreveld, making the right decision to give the work a fresh approach as if done for the first time, all while paying respect to the giants behind it:  Leonard Bernstein, Stephen Sondheim, and Arthur Laurents. Who knows if this century will manage to give us such a masterpiece, able to stir our hearts and overwhelm our senses, to make us cry and laugh each and every time!

We are also excited that the Bruxellons! Festival has chosen to present a comparatively little known to the non-English speaking world, though much awarded, contemporary musical Come From Away for next season.


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From This Author - Patrick Honoré

Patrick Honoré runs the magazine and has been a musical theater critic for 15 years, sarting as the French Musical Corespondant for the paper edition of Musical Stages in London... Patrick Honoré">(read more about this author)


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