It feels very . . . distinct.
A galvanizing new revival of “West Side Story” opened Thursday night time on Broadway, minus some common sights and seems. Jerome Robbins’ legendary choreography has been Jet-tisoned along with the “Somewhere” ballet, and Maria’s chirpy “I Sense Pretty” was offered the ax. There’s no extended an intermission, with the musical now managing a breakneck just one hour and 45 minutes.
Rather, in Belgian director Ivo van Hove’s finger-snapping-free staging, there’s a gigantic movie wall behind a mainly spare stage, contemporary apparel and a ferocity not observed given that the musical’s 1957 premiere, when The Post’s Richard Watts Jr. called it the tale of “the ugliness and horror of a war to the dying among the boys.” With that in thoughts, van Hove’s visceral acquire is spot-on for 2020. As very long as kids are still getting born into a “lousy” entire world, “West Side Story” should not be a journey down memory lane — it must be uncooked and real.
By pushing again from what we keep in mind from the Oscar-winning 1961 movie, a musical that lots of can recite line-by-line becomes newly suspenseful and gripping. It’s nonetheless the “Romeo and Juliet”-encouraged tale of Tony (Isaac Powell) of the Jets gang, and Maria (Shereen Pimentel), the sister of the rival Sharks gang chief, Bernardo (Amar Ramasar). The pair meets for the duration of a dance at the fitness center and, at wonderful danger to by themselves, drop in adore. But just about every action in this perfectly-worn plot will come as a startling surprise, starting with the gangs on their own.
As we watch during Leonard Bernstein’s booming “Prologue,” when a digital camera pans throughout the cast’s faces, the racially certain animus (Puerto Ricans compared to the Polish and Irish) is mainly gone. It is however there in Arthur Laurents’ ebook and Stephen Sondheim’s lyrics, but in an effort and hard work to mirror modern day-working day New York and its evolving conflicts, the casting is absolutely assorted — and devastatingly young.
At to start with, van Hove’s vision can be discombobulating. Doc’s drugstore, a sort-of truce zone for the Sharks and Jets, has been turned from a helpful ’50s soda counter into a fluorescently lit corner bodega. A movie digicam explores the shop as if it’s an indie movie set: Squint and you can location a can of Ajax in the again. As the gangs make strategies for a fatal rumble, I could not assistance but consider of the horrific 2018 gang slaying of a 15-yr-previous boy at a Bronx bodega. The entire creation pulses with such relevance: Just wait till you see the blood-soaked “Somewhere.”
Chances are, the closest you have appear to observing a production of this musical without having Robbins’ primary moves is at a high faculty that couldn’t very nail them. But now we have Belgian choreographer Anne Teresa De Keersmaeker’s far more modern dances, which toss apart grace for youthful clumsiness and anger. There is however some Latin flair — the teenagers yell “mambo!” right after all, not “Isadora Duncan!” — but it is not showstopping stuff.
What the much less-imposing dance and van Hove’s digital camera close-ups do is permit richer characters, specifically the young lovers. The remarkable Powell tends to make the most moving, motivated and emotionally turbulent Tony you are probable to have noticed. His golden-voiced “Maria” is Mountain Dew-inflected, with a teen’s vitality and squirmy awkwardness, and the “Tonight” duet with his Maria, an impacting Pimentel, is a serene stunner. You can really feel the show’s amped up angst via Ramasar’s brooding Bernardo all through the wet rumble.
Revisionism is very little new on Broadway. Sam Mendes did it in 1998 with his sexed-up “Cabaret” and John Doyle did it in 2005 with his dressed-down “Sweeney Todd.” The latest was Daniel Fish’s “Oklahoma!”, which pushed apart that show’s joyful spirit for judgy politics. But as weird and new as this “West Facet Story” may possibly appear, van Hove’s creation has the utmost respect for the authentic.
It’s still the exhibit you love, reinvented for the time in which you dwell.