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Pop quiz, boomers: What’s your favorite musical? If I had to guess, I’d go for “West Side Story.” Not only did the original 1957 production light up the Hit Parade four times in a row, with “Maria,” “One Hand, One Heart,” “Somewhere” and “Tonight,” but the 1961 film version was a box-office smash that won 10 Oscars and remains to this day a small-screen staple, while regional theater companies all over America continue to stage the show with remunerative regularity….
Unfortunately, a suburban mom who goes to Ivo van Hove’s new Broadway revival without knowing anything about Mr. van Hove’s work in general or this production in particular is in for a very big shock. This is not the “West Side Story” you know and love, and there are some—quite a few, actually—who’ll likely tell you that it’s not “West Side Story” at all. Jerome Robbins’ finger-popping choreography has been scrapped, and the rest of the show is heavily cut (it now runs for an intermission-free hour and 45 minutes, an hour shorter than the 2009 Broadway revival). “I Feel Pretty” and the “Somewhere” ballet are nowhere to be seen in Mr. van Hove’s production, which takes place not on New York’s Upper West Side in the ’50s but—surprise, surprise—here and now. Oh, yes, there’s no balcony or fire escapes, just a huge empty stage….
All this, Mr. van Hove has said, is to the end of giving us “a ‘West Side Story’ for the 21st century.” On paper, that’s an obvious but not-unreasonable idea. I’m for changing the classics when it’s done with taste and imagination—I just reviewed an 85-minute high-concept all-female “Macbeth” that was thrilling from start to finish—and “West Side Story” is similarly overdue for a thoroughgoing spring cleaning. This is especially true of Robbins’ dances. While I love his vibrant, vaulting sketches of teenage passion, I’ve seen them too many times to feel the urgent need to see them again any time soon. Of the five previous “West Side Story” revivals that I’ve reviewed in this space, all either reproduced Robbins’ steps more or less literally or were strongly influenced by his style. The trouble with Anne Teresa De Keersmaeker’s choreography is not that it’s new but that it’s dull…
As for Mr. van Hove’s staging, it is, like everything else he’s done in New York, a medley of self-regarding minimalist clichés slathered with political sauce….
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