West Side Story was previously executive produced by Scott Rudin, who announced he was stepping back from his Broadway productions shortly after The Hollywood Reporter detailed multiple allegations of physical abuse by ex-staffers.
During its short run, the multimedia take on the 1957 musical — which saw a return engagement in 1960 and revivals in 1980 and 2009 — featured present-day updates, a trimmed book, more hip-hop and, most notably, it was the first major staging in the U.S. to trade original director-choreographer Jerome Robbins’ beloved dances for brand-new choreography (courtesy of Anne Teresa De Keersmaeker).
Shereen Pimentel, who made her Broadway debut at age 9 in The Lion King, starred as Maria opposite Once on This Island‘s Isaac Powell as Tony. The part of Maria’s brother Bernardo, leader of Puerto Rican street gang the Sharks, was played by Amar Ramasar, while Yesenia Ayala, who appeared in the same Carousel revival as Ramasar, played his girlfriend. The other key role of Riff, Tony’s best friend and leader of rival gang the Jets, was played by Ben Cook, one of the original Broadway cast of Mean Girls. Both Ayala and Cook are set to appear in Steven Spielberg’s screen remake of West Side Story.
Van Hove’s version ultimately received mixed reviews. As THR‘s chief film critic David Rooney put it, “Like many big-swing experimental bids to reimagine a canonical work, director Ivo van Hove’s vigorously youthful take on the 1957 classic comes with losses and gains, but the latter are what you’ll remember.”
As West Side Story joins fellow shuttered shows like Beetlejuice, Frozen and Mean Girls, others are ready for their comeback—including those previously attached to Rudin: Kate Horton was recruited to join Barry Diller and David Geffen on the large-scale musical revival of Meredith Willson’s The Music Man starring Hugh Grant and Sutton Foster; Orin Wolf took over Aaron Sorkin’s adaptation of To Kill a Mockingbird and when The Book of Mormon announced its return, Rudin’s name was simply no longer listed among the producers.
Then again, unlike West Side Story, those productions weren’t subject to protests over a cast member at the center of ballet’s #MeToo moment.
This was the case for Ramasar, who was accused of sharing sexually explicit photos of another dancer and promptly fired from New York City Ballet in 2018—a decision that the American Guild of Musical Artists challenged, ultimately leading to Ramasar’s reinstatement in April 2019.
Still, the allegations resurfaced when Ramasar’s West Side Story casting was announced in July 2020. An online petition calling for his dismissal quickly amassed more than 49,000 signatures, and by the time February 2020 rolled around, multiple protests had been staged outside of Broadway Theatre with signs reading, “Sexual predators shouldn’t get leading roles on Broadway” and “Keep predators off the stage.”
West Side Story didn’t waver.
“The management of West Side Story stands, as it always has stood, with Amar Ramasar,” a Feb. 2020 statement from the production read in part. “While we support the right of assembly enjoyed by the protestors, the alleged incident took place in a different workplace — the New York City Ballet — which has no affiliation of any kind with West Side Story, and the dispute in question has been both fully adjudicated and definitively concluded according to the specific rules of that workplace, as mandated by the union that represents the parties involved in that incident.”
Before protests could continue, COVID-19 hit. On March 10, Rudin slashed all of his productions’ ticket prices to $50 in an attempt to fill seats, but two days later, Broadway was ordered closed.
Fourteen months later, New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo made the announcement so many out-of-work performers and stage staff were desperate to hear: Broadway will be back in business starting Sept. 14, and theaters will be open at 100 percent capacity once they reopen.
Rudin, however, had already departed multiple productions.
“I do not want any controversy associated with me to interrupt Broadway’s well deserved return, or specifically, the return of the 1,500 people working on these shows,” the producer wrote in a statement, which also contained an apology “for the pain my behavior caused to individuals, directly and indirectly,” to The Washington Post in April.
Though West Side Story won’t be a part of Broadway’s return, fans can look forward to Spielberg’s version hitting movie theaters Dec. 10.
This story was originally published by The Hollywood Reporter.
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