Saturday, May 25, 2024

New Broadway Version of “West Side Story” Will Replace Classic Soaring Dances With Moves from Avant Garde Choreographer Who Accused Beyonce of Plagiarism


When you’re a Jet, you’re a Jet all the way. That is unless you’re Dieter from “Sprockets.” Or Bill Hader’s Stefon from “Weekend Update.”

Next February, the producers of the new “West Side Story” will replace this

with this

Yes, that’s right. Buried in this week’s announcement that the cast coming to Broadway will be all unknowns was this tidbit: Scott Rudin is letting painfully avant garde director Ivo van Hove throw out Jerome Robbins’s award winning, classic choreography that has always been integral to “West Side Story.” von Hove is replacing Robbins’ work with that of Anne Teresa De Keersmaeker.

All of Robbins’s beautiful ballet, in which the dancers always looked like they were flying, will be replaced by flailing, herky jerky movements. Like this

It’s unclear how Rudin managed to separate the Robbins choreography from the show, but he’s also the guy who had Aaron Sorkin re-write “To Kill a Mockingbird.” A financial hit, it was not nominated for a Tony Award for Best Play. His partners in this endeavor are Barry Diller and David Geffen. van Hove just wrapped his “Network” on Broadway. Bryan Cranston won Best Actor but the play didn’t win a Tony and neither did the production.

This new “West Side Story” is coming at a strangely inopportune time. Steven Spielberg is currently shooting an updated version of the famous movie, set for release in December 2020. He’s using the Robbins dances.  It doesn’t quite make sense to trot out a new Broadway production a year before a new movie. On the other hand, the Spielberg version may be a relief after this one comes and goes.

Robbins in his lifetime won five Tony Awards, two Academy Awards, the Kennedy Center Honors (1981), the National Medal of Arts (1988), the French Legion of Honor, and an Honorary Membership in the American Academy and Institute of Arts and Letters. Every year, an award is given in his memory.

Are Broadway audiences ready for De Keersmaeker? She’s never worked on a Broadway show. Her work is usually for artsy dance audiences and museums. And if producers of “West Side Story” are allowed to jettison the music this time, what will they be allowed to do next time? No Sondheim-Bernstein music? No Jets and Sharks?

De Keersmaeker has been in the news, however, before: in 2011, she accused Beyonce of stealing her moves for a video.

This new edition of “West Side Story” may be brilliant. But I remember the last “West Side Story” on Broadway, when creator Arthur Laurents was turning 90, in 2009. It was so magnificent. And of course, we always have the original movie (buy it now before it gets pulled from streaming a la “Lion King”).

Watch what Robbin’s intentions were here:

Roger Friedman
Roger Friedman
Roger Friedman began his Showbiz411 column in April 2009 after 10 years with Fox News, where he created the Fox411 column. His movie reviews are carried by Rotten Tomatoes, and he is a member of both the movie and TV branches of the Critics Choice Awards. His articles have appeared in dozens of publications over the years including New York Magazine, where he wrote the Intelligencer column in the mid 90s and covered the OJ Simpson trial, and Fox News (when it wasn't so crazy) where he covered Michael Jackson. He is also the writer and co-producer of "Only the Strong Survive," a selection of the Cannes, Sundance, and Telluride Film festivals, directed by DA Pennebaker and Chris Hegedus.

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