William Shakespeare is having a bad year.
First, Netflix’s “The King,” starring Timothee Chalamet, dropped his name and all reference to him in the advertising. “The King” is based on Shakespeare’s “Henry” plays (Henry the Fourth Parts 1 and 2, Henry V). But you’d never know it from promotion. We’ve fallen a long way from “William Shakespeare’s Romeo and Juliet.” for example, Baz Luhrmann’s 1996 extravaganza with Leonardo Di Caprio and Clare Danes.
But “The King” is only the first wound for the Bard of Avon this year. Now comes news from the Broadway Theater that all traces of Shakespeare are gone from the new production of “West Side Story.” The famed and revered musical is based on “Romeo and Juliet,” if you recall. Lovers Tony and Maria are supposed to come from different sides of the tracks. He’s a fair haired Polish American kid. She’s a gorgeous Puerto Rican transplanted to New York. Their respective friends hate each other.
“West Side Story” is so much based on “Romeo and Juliet” that it features a famous balcony scene in which Tony approaches Maria, climbs her fire escape, and they sing the great song, “Tonight.”
Alas, the balcony, according to sources, is gone from Ivo van Hove’s “WSS,” which has had two preview performances this week. It opens February 6, 2020. But one audience member tells me, “There’s no balcony because there are no sets.” No sets? “No sets. The whole show is performed on a bare brick stage painted black. A large back wall, large enough to be Fenway Park’s big green wall, is a massive video projection.”
Shakespeare should sue! One of his most famous lines is “But, soft! what light through yonder window breaks? It is the east, and Juliet is the sun.” Juliet is standing on the balcony. But in the new “WSS,” Juliet– er, Maria– is apparently cheated out of her big moment.
Other changes to “West Side Story” besides no sets? We already know the Jerome Robbins choreography is gone. So is the song “I Feel Pretty,” and a ballet that follows the song “Somewhere.” I’m told the “Gee Officer Krupke” song, which used to be comedic, is now pretty dark. and Officer Krupke holds a gun on the gang members while they serenade him.
Hmmmm….I guess someone outta brush up their Shakespeare!