The same production of “West Side Story” returns 11 years later and is just as robust
STAGE PRODUCTION teams often work as hard, if not harder, than the artists appearing on stage and one can only admire the energy of the crews involved in the dismantling and setting up of the stage for “West Side Story”. The international touring edition of the musical finished its three-week run in Singapore on September 30 and travelled to the City of Angels for its six performances at Bangkok’s 19th International Festival of Dance and Music, arriving hot on the heels of Malandain Ballet Biarritz’s “La belle et la bete”. That’s an amazing feat for the production teams and it’s a fair bet that the coffee stands near the Thailand Cultural Centre did a roaring trade as sleep-starved crews rushed to finish the sets.
But it also meant that these frequent travellers didn’t have enough time to adjust to our venue’s wider-than-standard stage and audiences seated in the side sections had less fun than those in the centre, as it became evident that the set wasn’t designed and built for this stage.
And if the photos look familiar, that’s because it’s the same 50th anniversary production, produced by Mannheim-based BB Promotion, which festival organiser International Cultural Promotions (ICP) brought here in 2006.
While there are also many other productions of this classic American musical, this production is the only one holding the license of the original direction and choreography by American performing arts legend Jerome Robbins.
With New York-based choreographer Joey McKneely also doubling as the director in recreating Robbins’ work, the highlight of this production was his choreography, which is as robust now as it was six decades ago. Likewise, Paul Gallis’s set design with two main sets of New York-style apartments with fire escapes left ample room for it.
Vigorous and lively, the production is so “dancey” that one could be forgiven for thinking it’s a modern ballet, which is why it was presented at Sadler’s Wells, a London dance venue, twice.
And it’s so well done that one would still understand the whole story even if the dialogue and lyrics of Stephen Sondheim’s original songs were cut.
The international cast, comprising mostly American actors, was up to the task in dancing and singing, and the tunes brought back fond memories of the Academy Award-winning film and the 2006 production. That’s thanks to the fact that they’ve been performing together in different Asian cities for many months. In terms of acting though, they were less convincing and at times somewhat robotic as if waiting for the next cue to sing and dance. And in the end, this modern interpretation of star-crossed lovers set in multicultural New York’s Upper West Side didn’t move me the way productions of “Romeo and Juliet” have. This is notwithstanding the fact that it was another reminder, considering the ongoing conflicts, that in the land where all men are created equal, not all men are treated equal.
American music director and conductor Donald Chan, a “West Side Story” veteran, and his associate John Yun worked with our Royal Bangkok Symphony Orchestra and if the result of this small collaboration can be as pleasant as this, then the Festival should be able to bring in many international productions of musicals or ballets by saving the flight costs of the musicians.
It should also be noted that the performance here was supported by the US Embassy Bangkok who, with the Young Southeast Asian Leaders Initiative, also organised the Conflict Resolution Workshop, a full-day programme for 40 students 16 to 25 years old concluding with free attendance at “West Side Story”. And that’s a deft way to create an add-on activity that makes sure that a Broadway musical is not just entertainment. Other embassies who take part in the festival might like to consider this.
I was too old to apply of course, but were I not I would have tweeted Mr POTUS to watch this musical and continue his relief support for Puerto Rico, the US territory from where the Sharks originated.
Bangkok’s 19th International Festival of Dance and Music is made possible through the kind support of Crown Property Bureau, Ministry of Culture, Bangkok Bank, Bangkok Dusit Medical Services, B Grimm Group, BMW, Dusit Thani Bangkok, Indorama Ventures, Nation Group, PTT Group, Singha Corporation, Tourism Authority of Thailand, Thai Airways International and Thai Union.
The last programme of “Bangkok’s 19th International Festival of Dance and Music” is the Stuttgart Ballet’s “Taming of the Shrew”, featuring the original choreography by the company’s founder John Cranko as well as elaborate set and costumes.
It’s on this Wednesday and Thursday at 7.30pm, at the Thailand Cultural Centre.
Tickets are from Bt 2,000 to |Bt 5,500 at ThaiTicketMajor.
Find out more at BangkokFestivals.com.