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When Joshua Buscher speaks of Arthur Laurents, which he does frequently during our brief interview, it is with the reverent tone of a student quoting the teachers of a master. Which is exactly what Laurents is. At 90, he is very much the hands-on director of the legendary icon of American theater– West Side Story– the show he wrote over 50 years ago.
Since July, I have been trying to line up an interview with someone from the production of West Side Story’s revival. By now the play’s publicist and I have become virtual pen pals. After reading that the play would open for its pre-Broadway run right here in Washington D.C. (in the National Theater, the same venue it first opened at in 1957), I was determined to get the inside scoop on it. Through auditions, the New York rehearsals, and finally DC rehearsals, we continued our correspondence. Finally, just days before the opening of the first preview performance in mid-December, I am on the phone with cast member Buscher, who is enthusiastically describing his experience preparing for this historic revival.
What makes this revival of West Side Story so unique is language. Laurents’ late partner, Tom Hatcher, had seen the play staged entirely in Spanish in Colombia and found that it totally changed the dynamics– the Sharks became the heroes and the Jets the villains. “I thought it would be terrific if we could equalize the two gangs somehow,” Laurents told the New York Times earlier this year, by having characters speaking amongst themselves in their native language.
Adding the Spanish into the show 100 percent makes it work,” says Buscher, “It helps so much with the energy of the show– what it does is makes that barrier of the Americans versus the Puerto Ricans even wider. Some of our audience can’t speak Spanish, so they get frustrated,” adding to the tension the audience will feel between the Sharks and the Jets. In case you’re one of those non-Spanish-speaking audience memeers, don’t worry– there will be supertitles. Although some scenes, such as the one preceding America, are mostly in Spanish, he is confident that the acting and dancing will transcend language.
One thing I was dying to know was if Robbins’ choreography would be altered at all for greater cultural authenticity. Would the Puerto Ricans be adding some bomba or plena sabor to the dance numbers? Then again, no reason mess with a good thing (no, make that an amazing thing — West Side Story is in my book, hands down, the best dance musical ever, and the best music musical, for that matter). So what if the choreography of America is more flamenco than salsa? Joey McKneely, the reproduction choreographer did change some of the blocking and spacing in the piece to underscore the culturally adversarial give and take between the homesick girls and the girls that are trying to become Americanized (which explains why Anita will at times break into English even with her compatriots). It will be more about that interaction than an “and now folks, here’s the big dance number” performance to the audience; but Robbins’ choreography will remain intact.
This will be Buscher’s Broadway debut. He is Diesel, the “meathead” of the Jets– a surprise not only to me– going by his angelic headshot and cheery voice– but also to his family and friends. “It was kind of a process for me to get into that because I’m not really a meathead,” says Buscher. “But he’s come to life and it’s great. When we do the rumble scene it’s awesome. It’s very empowering for me to jump on stage and be able to protect the guys that are behind me.” Late bloomers, take heart. Although Buscher was a gymnast in his youth, he didn’t start dancing until he got to college, realizing it was important to his development as an actor. The audition process for West Side Story, which was six months long, really improved his technique. That plus an hour-long barre class before each day’s practice and the encouragement of McKneely and his assistant. “It helps that [Diesel] is a fighter because he’s not the most balletic boy; they did a nice job of casting if I do say so myself,” he says with a laugh.
It is a young company, with many making their Broadway debut– with so much of the cast being made up of teenage gang members, that is a necessity. There are some seasoned veterans, of course, including Karen Olivo (Anita) who was most recently seen in In the Heights. Here’s another familiar face: Step It Up and Dance fans will recognize Cody Green in the role of Riff.
Six-month audition process aside, I want to know the nuts and bolts of getting a Broadway dance musical from studio to stage. “The first week of rehearsals was just dance, that’s all we did,” says Buscher. After a brief meeting with Laurents and the creative team, “literally an hour later we were on the floor learning Dance at the Gym.” Nary a libretto was cracked open for the first full week of practice as the dancers learned all the dance numbers. This allowed the choreography to become second nature so the dancers could focus on acting. Additionally, as lines, songs, acting and blocking were layered on, the choreography gained depth along with the process of character development.
Rehearsals started in New York City, going about six hours a day, six days a week for five weeks. The whole cast moved to DC for the final two weeks of rehearsal. After the dances were learned, important acting moments were added in, and vocal rehearsals. “The way Arthur and Joey McKneely work is they fill it up right in the beginning so you have time to grow,” says Buscher. Additional character development occurred after hours, as The Jets hung out together socially to get to know each other and figure out their relationships in the gang. Quoting Laurents again, he says, “He wants this to be an acting show. He says the dance number’s kind of nowhere if you’re not acting from somewhere.”
By the time the cast got to Washington they felt comfortable enough with what they had to do to start taking more artistic risks. The hard work “pays off when you get the show at a place where you’re allowed to try new things on stage because you’re so comfortable with what you’re doing. That is where a show should be.”
With just hours remaining before his big Broadway show debut, I ask Buscher what we can expect. I’ve been able to tell from the tone of his voice during our conversation that there is a great deal of excitement and satisfaction with the process and anticipation for what is to come.” There’s a very high bar for this show and all of this are taking it on with full force. We are young we are energized and we’re dancing the crap out of this show.”
West Side Story runs through January 17, 2009 at the National Theatre in Washington, DC. Tickets are on sale through Telecharge (800) 447-7400, www.telecharge.com) or at the National Theatre Box Office (202-628-6161 www.nationaltheatre.org. It will open on Broadway on February 23.
Seriously, the cha cha is so easy:
You go, Barack step back, cha cha cha, Barack step front, cha cha cha
If it’s too hard at first, just Biden’ your time, it will get easier!
This is one of the sillier photoshopped images of the politicians going around. It is nice to have some levity, not to mention some dancing in this ever more intense and dirty campaign season.
Early voting has started in many states. Here in Virginia, it began on the 15th. I cast my vote for Obama today, and it feels so good! If you need information about voting and early voting, go to Vote for Change and they’ll tell you when and where you can vote in your state.
Speaking of dancing with the candidates, I leave you with this now-classic clip of Barack Obama on Ellen:
We now interrupt our regularly scheduled programming to bring you this important news…
I am just back from the New Kids on the Block reunion concert at the Verizon Center in DC. It was quite an experience and one I’m glad I didn’t miss. It was the ultimate nostalgic experience for me, plus, bonus– the ‘Kids have aged quite well. Jonathan Knight was always my favorite and after last night, I love him even more (with apologies to Mr. P). Since Jon was in our nation’s capital he decided to make a political statement. He was wearing an Obama tshirt!
By the way, this was the part where they came off the main stage and appeared on this little revolving platform in the middle of the crowd. Sooo exciting!
Here’s the extreme closeup:
iGoogle, the personalized homepage version of Google, has rolled out a dizzying array of artist themes with which to customize your web searching experience. There is everything from Jeff Koons, to Diane von Furstenberg, to the Wiggles. Imagine my delight when I found Mark Morris — the only dance company for the time being– among the options. Now every time I go to Google, I am greeted with a different image of my favorite dance company.
Here’s a screenshot of how it looks. Click for a larger version. There’s no mention on the Mark Morris dance company’s website about how this came to be, but what great exposure! I wonder if google plans to include more dancers in its artist lineup.
you are what you eat…who’d have thought how much what you eat for breakfast says about you?
from jonhuck.com, courtesy of stumbleupon
Peeps are no good for eating (unless they are toasted over a campfire and sandwiched between graham crackers and chocolate), but they are ideal for a plethora of silly activities.
Namely, the Washington Post’s Peeps Show contest, wherein enterprising entrants put together and photographed dioramas featuring peeps. The results are absolutely delightful. Take for example this recreation of the mass Thriller dance put on by the prisoners in the Phillipines.
The only thing that sucks about this is that I didn’t know about it. I have grand plans for next year– Peep Lake, anyone? Or how about Peeptrouchka, The Peepcracker, or Peep Side Story? The pink bunny ears would make excellent pointe shoes.
In more DC Peeper Madness, the Washington Metro Area Transit Authority put out the most hilarious (and low-budget) PSA you will ever see. They are building a new stadium for our baseball team, the Nationals, and Metro is trying to get people to take public transit rather than drive for opening day. If this video won’t convince you to metro it, I don’t know what will…
Danciti, did you take this picture?
Those first actors a girl gets a crush on early in life will always have a special place in her heart. Thanks to his amazing role in Dirty Dancing, Patrick Swayze was one of my first silver screen loves, and may have contributed to my preference for bad boy types. Thus, the news that he has been diagnosed with pancreatic cancer saddens me.
The vast majority of my traffic over the past week or two has been generated by people looking for pictures and news of Patrick (via this post)– so to all my new readers that found their way here thanks to him, and of course, for Johnny Castle himself, here is a little compilation of some of his finest dance moments.
One Last Dance: I haven’t seen this one but it looks like it’s got some great dance scenes in it, and of course, Patrick…
Patrick’s cameo in Dirty Dancing 2: Havana Nights. His dance partner, Joann Jansen is also making a cameo– she is actually the film’s choreographer and the story line was based on her own life.
I could only find a crappy quality one but I could not omit the Silvia and Mickey scene from Dirty Dancing.
And of course, the Dirty Dancing finale, the scene we’ll never forget…
Finally, no dancing here, but I had to end with the most deliciously crappy scene in the history of cinema, co-starring Patrick and the stupidest, most beautiful man on earth (and my other first love, ever since Bill and Ted’s Excellent Adventure), Keanu Reeves. I give you the final scene from Point Break
Vaya con dios, Patrick; may you get well soon!
[UPDATE: This post is new and improved. I have added some captions but I don't know many of the people's names. Those who told me their names I promptly forgot. Please please if you know who they are, leave a comment or email me to ID them so I can give credit where credit is due.]
I wanted to get these up quickly… captions and a recap of the event to come.
I apologize for the crappy cell phone pics. Next time I’ll remember to bring my camera!
Cedric Tillman and Kenneth Rascher, with Kelly Mayfield snoozing through their remarks under a table. Cedric is the founder of Echo Park, Kenneth is his partner in crime and interior designer who told me that less than a month ago, there were lowered ceilings, walls, tiled floors, and all other sorts of stuff, that he managed to flip into a beautiful, high-ceilinged, light filled space with an urban/shabby/chic/homey/artistic sort of vibe. Kelly wasn’t really sleeping, just preparing a nice segue into her company Contradiction Dance’s performance after the welcoming remarks. I really enjoyed the reception and thought the remarks and entertainment flowed together really nicely.
A magician warms up the crowd (last name was London…can’t remember the first). Enoch Chan photography adorns the walls.
OMG. Three of the Bad Boys of Dance y’all. Unfortunately, Rasta Thomas was sick. Also unfortunately, I had to leave for my own dance rehearsal before they performed. If you saw them, please let me know how they were in the comments section.
Kenneth and Kelly. It was great to meet Kelly, one of my dance blogosphere friends (of kk’s world and Contradiction Dance) in person.
Part of the lounge area. I think it has a nice homey feel to it. Critic George Jackson is in this photo. I had a nice conversation with him about writing about dance. There was a great turnout to the opening and a good cross section of folks from the dance and arts communities, as well as from Takoma Park. I met a nice journalist from the local paper named Julie (who was taking pictures) and a member of the city council who stopped by.
Band that played during the reception. If anyone knows who these guys are let me know so I can give them credit.