For more than six months, Ivo van Hove’s new West Side Story production has commanded a constant presence in New York print ads. The television commercial features the iconic theme of the Jets played on a solo piano with excerpts from 63 years of glowing reviews, thereby linking them to the new production (which is in previews and opens on February 20). Whatever excitement, and ticket sales, this has engendered was recently tempered by rumors and then a press release: it’s down to one act, “I Feel Pretty” has been cut, and so has the “Somewhere” ballet. There is, in some circles, a palpable feeling of dread that simultaneously accompanies a general curiosity and a sense of expectation. Something’s coming, all right. Will it click or merely shock?
First of all, we might ask: What is West Side Story? Or better: What was it in 1957, when it opened on Broadway? Most people know it from the 1961 movie that began with a thrilling overture, and had an intermission after the love song “Maria,” rather than after the rumble. In 1957 the audience walked up the aisle having just seen two dead bodies left alone onstage as a single xylophone repeated a high E-flat and a distant church bell rang nine times.