Broadway opening of West Side Story during the Harvey Weinstein trial places rave show reviews against the platform for social justice warriors
The third revival of the classic Broadway musical, West Side Story, which opened at the Broadway Theatre on February 20th, 2020, comes at a poignant time for both the #MeToo movement and the show itself, which has its own sexual harassment problems. After more than two months of performing in previews, West Side Story finally had its red carpet opening, but the event was much maligned with protesters outside the theatre who are standing up against sexual harassment and against the shows main actor who is alleged to have committed a crime against women. The show opened with great critical reviews, but the opening was overshadowed by the controversy surrounding the lead actor Amar Ramasar, who is being accused of past sexual misconduct.
Ramasar, who plays Bernardo in the show, was alleged to have been involved in a nude photo sharing scandal that has plagued the New York City Ballet (NYCB). It is alleged that while Ramasar was performing with the ‘New York City Ballet’ in 2018, he allegedly shared nude photos of ballet dancer and model, Alexandra Waterbury with his male friends. The glitzy West Wide Story show opening was mired with protesters and all this was set to a backdrop of the Harvey Weinstein rape trial that had just concluded in Lower Manhattan in which the #MeToo movement had a significant impact. This was the end of a two year long investigation that led to a three week trial of the American film producer, and now convicted sex offender, Harvey Weinstein. Sexual harassment and rape allegations against him sparked a movement of mostly women to stand up against sexual harassment, specifically in show business and the workplace and it ended up with him being charged in both New York City and Hollywood, California. Caught in the middle of all this activity is the West Side Story opening replete with their own sexual harassment problems that easily conflate with the Harvey Weinstein trial and the timing could not have been any worse.
The Latest Incarnation of 'West Side Story' Garners Rave Reviews
West Side Story has performed on Broadway three times in the past. The show originally debuted in September, 1957 in the Winter Garden Theatre and was a huge hit with critics and audiences alike. The 1961 movie had a similar response and the 1980 and 2009 versions of the show were both well received. Critics thought that this show would be tough to bring back to Broadway now because it is a bit long-in-the-tooth and tells a familiar story that most people already know. The writers, directors and producers of the new show were able to blow critics away on opening night with a whole new take on the format, that brings a remarkably fresh approach to the story. This latest version of the show launched a new type of performance art that is well integrated with pre-recorded bits that are projected during the performance onto a large screen behind the actors. Philip Boroff, a critic from the Broadway Journal said the musical was “Like an arena pop concert or sporting event with instant replay, there’s a lot to take in and enjoy.” And Marilyn Stasio from Variety said “At first the screens seem intrusive, more aggressive than enlightening because they’re competing with, and often overwhelming, the stage action below. But, they become integral later in the show.”
Why People Are Protesting Outside The 'West Side Story' Theatre
At the opening night of West Side Story, the show was met with many protesters who were frustrated with the perceived mishandling of a #MeToo controversy. There were over two hundred (mostly female) protesters accusing the lead performer of being a sexual predator. Since then, other protesters have joined together nightly outside of the Broadway theatre where the revival of West Side Story is currently performing, in order to protest Amar Ramasar, who currently plays Bernardo in the show. In response to ongoing protests, the show producers have even modified the end of the show to counter the protests by removing the individual bows. Only an ensemble bow now takes place , as many audience members were booing Ramasar when he appeared. The stage door is an even bigger mess and Ramasar is reportedly making an exit through another door.
When the scandal originally surfaced, Ramasar was booted from the New York City Ballet, but after a court appeal, they were forced to rehire him. This meant that Ramasar was not only allowed to continue with the NYCB dance program but, was encouraged by the heads of the program to appear in Broadway’s West Side Story reboot, in which he now stars. The people who are protesting Ramasar and West Side Story are led by Alexandra Waterbury herself. Waterbury’s friends, family, colleagues and other social justice activists have been protesting outside the Broadway show since its opening night, with the intent to “depress ticket sales and pressure producers to change their minds (about casting Ramasar)” and bring an overall focus to sexual harassment in the arts and in the workplace.
Scott Rudin Faces Mounting Pressure to Change The Cast
When the story about Ramsar initially broke, the West Side Story producers made a statement that they would not fire Ramasar from the show” and that he was a “trustworthy guy”. Scott Rudin, who is the producer of the show, restated in an interview after the opening night “Am I supposed to replace him in the show? I’m not gonna do that.” In a rebuttal to Scott Rudin and the West Side Story production team, an online petition to remove Ramasar from the show was started by Megan Rabin, a 20-year-old former ballet dancer from Boston, who is protesting along with Waterbury in NYC. The online petition has garnered more than 50,000 signatures from people world-wide but is still not likely to get Ramasar fired or change the mind of the producer who appears to be protecting Ramasars actions. This means that Rudin may now have to fend off accusations about himself as he may have just become a sexual harassment denier and may have just become a lightning rod for the #MeToo movement.
Ramasar’s recent public statement on his Instagram account stated “Unfortunately we live in a time where allegations are taken as fact, and actions are made rashly and harshly.”, which essentially accuses Waterbury of lying. Ramasar said in a NYTimes interview: “It breaks my heart that a terrible mistake I made two years ago has caused a situation that is distracting from the work you are all doing here with such selflessness … I want you to know that my past is not my present.” It is clear that if Ramasar truly cared about the effect that his notoriety is bringing to the production of West Side Story, he would have already quit the show, but it appears his narcissism may be his driving force, which is true of many performance arts professionals and the sexual harassment that exists in many of the dark corners of the industry.