West Side Story Returns to Broadway Like Never Before, Thanks to Ivo van Hove

Ivo van Hove Illustration by Britt Spencer

West Side Story is "an American masterpiece," says Ivo van Hove, director of the latest Broadway revival, opening February 20. Van Hove hopes his vision will show the musical in "all its cruelty and devastation, but also all the beauty and all the hope." The Tony-award winning Belgian director of The Crucible (2016) and A View from the Bridge (2015) has scaled back from the original production, keeping the stage bare and the story "raw." He focuses on the cultural differences between the characters and the violent world they live in. "There's this fear of authority, be it police, be it the social system." In a major departure from the show's classic staging, van Hove's take on West Side Story also has all-new choreography by Anne Teresa De Keersmaeker; in fact, of the musical's four Broadway productions, only van Hove's does not feature Jerome Robbins' signature dance moves. But one thing that hasn't changed is the script. "I kept the script the way it was, because I love the harshness of it."

Why remake West Side Story for the 21st century?
These young people are on their own. They're almost like orphans thrown into the world. The only thing that they know is that they want to establish their own identity, and they do this by fighting. Just for territory, and this little piece of territory gives them an identity. "We are the Jets. We are the Sharks." That's something that I find resonates a lot.

How do you think West Side Story is politically relevant today?
The clash of cultures is still going on. The excluding of them/us is happening on a high political level, and not only in America. It's very relevant, and it's a scary thing because that's the stuff that creates wars and violence. That's what you see in this musical; it deals with violence. Once you treat violence as a normal thing, it leads to catastrophe.

Were you aware of the Steven Spielberg version of West Side Story coming out in December 2020? It came up during production. [Tony Kushner and Steven Spielberg] will make a beautiful piece of work. I'm looking forward to seeing the movie.

What do you hope people take from your version of West Side Story?
Some people come to see our take on it, other people come because they love West Side Story. Everybody comes for different reasons, and I respect that.