Friday, April 12, 2024

Review: No Snap in New “West Side Story,” A Convoluted Mess That May Be a Rare Failure for Some Top Producers


Producer Scott Rudin has joined forces with two Hollywood powerhouses, David Geffen and Barry Diller, to produce the new “West Side Story,” which opened tonight at the Broadway Theater. The only living member of the triumvirate that created “West Side Story” in 1957, Stephen Sondheim, 85 and ailing from a fall, has been paying close attention to what’s going on. I can only imagine the money he was paid to allow the cutting of his song, “I Feel Pretty,” and the changing of Jerome Robbin’s choreography.

I saw “West Side Story” in December, but I held my tongue because the show had a very long preview period anyway– two months, not including the extra two weeks– and I’d reported that Sergio Trujillo had come in to help cutting edge choreographer Anna deKeersmaecker try to make her work less abrasive to Robbins fans.

Tonight, the show finally opened officially with few changes, I surmise, from what I saw several weeks ago. The New York Times panned it, quite rightly. Though Rudin loves to deluge local New York TV with ads, this may turn out to be a rare failure for Diller and Geffen, who like to back winners. Even though the show has sold out for weeks, its success will depend now on the reviews.

There are no sets, just a black brick unadorned stage. Cut into the back wall is a set that we can’t really see. It’s used by the videographers who go back there and transmit the action to the Drive in like back wall of the theater, now a massive projection. When I saw the show, sometimes no one was on stage, it was all taking place on video. It was annoying and depressing. von Hove, who used a lot of video projection for “Network,” has gone whole hog with it here. The videos are constant, and moving. I felt like I needed a Dramamine. Maybe that’s been changed. Also, they were supposed to be street shots of Hell’s Kitchen. They looked like Long Island City.

The videos are more distressing than the changes in the choreography. The dances now are just underwhelming. They aren’t bad. They just lack Robbins’ passion. There is no snapping. If you’re seeing “West Side Story” for the first time ever, you won’t know the difference. Later, if you see the movie, you’ll smack your forehead and wonder what the heck these people were thinking. There’s also no balcony– meaning a fire escape– for the singing of “Somewhere.” This is true. This is supposed to the retelling of “Romeo and Juliet.” The fire escape evoked Juliet’s balcony. But it’s gone in this version

Isaac Powell was excellent in the show I saw, so were Shireen Pimentel, Ben Cook, Yesenia Ayala and Ramasar. Powell is not performing matinees from what I’ve been told. Cook is gone. Are they as good as the cast I saw a decade ago when co-author Arthur Laurents was still alive? No. Did I miss Karen Olivo as Anita? A lot. And the Robbins dancing? Yes. I remember that cast sailing through the air, they were wondrous. But you don’t miss what you don’t know. I thought the biggest mistake, aside from no ‘balcony,” was the Officer Krupke number now inflected with violence. What a shame.

This version of “West Side Story” is finally out on its own. I’m curious to see how it will do now that everyone knows the truths of the production. (PS You know it’s bad when the NY Post thinks it’s a “triumph.”)

This piece was adapted from one I wrote on Monday.

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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