Famous Musical West Side Story is Once Again in Hot Water


Courtesy of Stephen Lovekin/Variety/Shutters

Here, protesters are seen outside the opening of the new production.

Lily Ives, Features Editor

All of you! You all killed him! And my brother, and Riff. Not with bullets, or guns, with hate.

Well, now I can kill, too, because now I have hate!” An iconic line spoken by main character Maria in the world famous musical and occasionally controversial West Side Story by legendary lyricist Stephen Sondhiem. 

This is a musical that has had numerous productions since its 1950s original production. The original 1961 movie is considered one of the best musical movie adaptations, with it starring the legendary Natalie Wood. It won a number of Academy Awards and  is still acclaimed to this day. 

The original story is easily one of the most well-known modern retellings of the classic William Shakespeare play Romeo and Juliet, up there with adaptations like the 1990s film Romeo + Juliet starring Leo DiCaprio and Claire Danes. 

Recently, a new production opened on Broadway on Feb. 20 of this year. This production has changed the musical quite a bit, adding more diversity to the casting and using video projections for the stage design. This time around, the cast features Isaac Powell as Tony and Shereen Pimentel as Maria and the controversial choice of Amar Ramasar in the role of Bernardo. 

Now, you might be wondering why this is considered controversial. This is because Ramasar was accused of being a part of a scandal that happened back in 2018 when he was still a member of the New York City Ballet. He was accused of sending explicit photos of his girlfriend to other people, unbeknownst to her. 

Protestors stood outside of the theatre opening night with signs asking for his removal, many of them returning in subsequent performances. The producer of the show is adamant to keeping Ramasar in his role, and this isn’t the only support that he has received; the aforementioned girlfriend has stated that she has since forgiven his actions.  

This isn’t the first time that West Side Story has gotten to be a part of some form of controversy. It has been criticized a multitude of times for various reasons, specifically the often stereotyped portrayal of Puerto Ricans and the racist way that they were portrayed, especially in the original film. 

This scandal is considered to be a part of the #metoo movement that started back in 2017, with the Harvey Weinstein accusations of sexual assault. It comes as just the newest instance of someone in a public position committing the crime of sexual harassment.

Only time will tell what will happen with this production of the classic musical, but it seems like not much will actually change with the casting.