West Side Story
  Director's Concept  

How do you revisit a classic?  West Side Story has been done.  Why do it again?  More relevant, why do it again if you can't bring something new and vital to the grand, old piece?  Forget it, I don't want to remount a museum piece.  It is insulting to the original creative team and the talent and energy of the current one.  No, there has to be a new passion, a new path through the material that resonates for a contemporary cast and crew and -- perhaps more importantly -- for a plugged-in, technologically based, media influenced urban audience.

So, you want to do it new?  Yes!  But, no.  The basic text is mired in its own time.  If Maria had a cell phone, she'd call Tony at Doc's and tell him she is going to be late.  Many of the things that are requisite to drive the action of the mid-fifties plotline from moment to moment are unlikely in contemporary culture.  I don't want to do West Side Story in Space.  It seems that a successful contemporary production must know and respect the milieu of the cultural paradigm of its creators.  I want be faithful to the late-fifties sound, feel, and -- most importantly -- to its cultural values.  Maria is a virgin and virginity was a highly prized moral value.  An element of Bernardo's -- and Chino's -- rage is the supposed and actual defiling of Maria and her "virtue" and the racial, sexual, and social cost of such an eventuality perpetrated by a young man seen as an outsider, one of "them."

Does that mean the play can't be done today?  Because we're not the Puritanical nation we once were an audience won't understand this prosaic morality?  Please.  We aren't that far removed from the moral strictures of the fifties that we don't recognize the system.  I am convinced an audience will witness the "old fashioned" values and accept them in order to get the larger message of the piece which, in its core, explores the separation of human being's into artificial distinctions of "us" and "them," the fomenting of hatred by one group for the other and the cost that this will inevitably exact.  Now there is something we can play with fullness, honesty, integrity, and power.  There is a message that must still resonate, even in a technological and "enlightened" age.

But, we can't do it the way it was done before.  We owe it to ourselves to breathe new life into every moment.  We have all seen amateur productions of well-known stage plays in which the players -- I do not call them actors -- parrot the performances of the cinema version in every inflection and the individual line becomes a reading without content, meaning, or elemental life.  It is a carefully copied imitation of an imitation of life.  Can we not be more powerful than that?  Can we not surprise our audience in every living second of the representation with a veracity and spontaneity that keeps them on the edge of their seats?  That is the West Side Story I want to do.   Promise me that and I'll buy a ticket.

And, of course, it has to move like a serpent in shallow water, smoothly, swiftly, elegantly giving the viewer no time to ask questions.  "What if" cannot exist in a tragedy.  What if Oedipus just stopped asking questions.  What if Hamlet just stayed out of Denmark.  What if Tony and Maria just got on a bus for Cleveland.  Scenes will overlap when I can get them to do so and only when the audience is breathless will they get a breather, never a black out or a long, thunderous darkness to ponder the events of the scene, no, right into the next action, tumbling through to the inevitable ending, seamless and breath-taking.

And clear.  It must be clear, even in dialect the meaning of the individual line must be comprehensible and unambiguous if the tale is to move rapidly.  Nothing kills the moment like an involuntary and overly loud "what did he say" from a loud-mouthed audience member.  I know for a fact that an audience trained by the performers to expect a muddled delivery from the first moments of a production will give up and sit back to plan their grocery shopping for the next day. 

I wonder if that is too much to ask.  Truthful, skillful, swift, and exacting and always highly spirited.  I think we have a cast that can do that, I really do.  And I think it will be a "blast," fun for the company and for the audience. 




I was in The Music Man and my director pushed me to be always bigger, louder, and "showier."  How "showy" do you want it?


This ain't The Music Man.  That piece allows the performer a level of presentation that this one does not.  West Side Story, in every beat of its short, staccato scenes and its driving music, is meant to be representational.  It speaks it from every line and in every song.  And, yes, they are singing and dancing.  Its a world where they sing and dance.  Are there such worlds?  It doesn't matter.  During the two hours passage of our tale, there is.  We create it, we believe it.  I admire the way these writers have carefully constructed dramatic scenes which -- when steered away from inherent melodrama -- force the character into something greater than words.  They must sing.  The must "bust." They must dance.


How "crazy" can I get; how far do you want me to take my character?


As crazy as can be justified by the text.  Try it out on me, if it is too far, I'll tell you.  I won't let you make a fool of yourself, trust me on that.  Baby John is clearly afraid of "Zip Guns*," he mentions it twice.  The actor seeing this has to find the level of "crazy" appropriate to that fear without mugging and sawing the air too much with the hands, without indicating emotion or intention that is not solidly created in the imagination with a fierceness that cannot help but believed by the observer in the moment. 


photo of a zip gun

zip gun: a crude homemade pistol from the verb zip:

  • To move with a sharp hissing sound.

  • To move or act with a speed that suggests such a sound:

  • To act or proceed swiftly and energetically: to become fastened or unfastened by a zipper.

  • To give speed and force to./To impart life or zest to./To fasten or unfasten with a zipper.


*Zip gun is a term used for a crude, improvised firearm, usually a handgun. Zip guns are usually associated with criminals,. Zip guns are almost always single-shot, as the improvised construction sometimes makes them weak enough to be destroyed by the act of firing. Many zip guns use black market commercial ammunition, which is usually more easily obtained than black market firearms, but a zip gun could use improvised ammunition as well. Zip guns are usually smoothbore, unless they are built using barrels salvaged from other firearms.