Why This Production of West Side Story Will Redefine Theatre in Paris

He has been called the “Châtelet Enchanter.”

For a decade, as director of the Théâtre du Châtelet in the heart of Paris, Jean-Luc Choplin made the American musical increasingly popular in the City of Light, a venue that until his arrival had not been known for its embrace of the genre.

Now the 67-year-old Choplin has left Châtelet (which is closed for renovations) and become the first artistic director of the Seine Musicale, a large new theatre complex on the Île Seguin, an island in the Seine by Boulogne-Billancourt, a suburb just beyond the western end of Paris easily reached by the Paris Métro subway. And he intends to continue imbuing his fellow Parisians with his love of the American musical theatre tradition—first with a revival of one of Broadway’s greats, West Side Story.

“Every five years, for a new generation, we have to bring back West Side Story,” says Choplin, whose official title is chairman of the Seine Musicale programming committee. “It’s a production I did twice at Châtelet, with great success. The last time was in 2012, so I thought it was time again. It’s also a preliminary to next year’s celebration of the 100th anniversary of its composer Leonard Bernstein’s birth.” It’s also the 60th anniversary of the show’s original Broadway opening, in 1957. The musical will be seen October 12 to November 12.

Choplin, who also co-produced the Tony-winning musical An American in Paris on Broadway, says that his motto has always been “popular and sophisticated. That’s what I did at Châtelet, and that’s the concept we want to develop on this music island, with big, major projects. West Side Story is something that is difficult to classify. It’s a piece which is classical, with great, extraordinary music, and at the same time it reaches everybody. It’s what I call popular and sophisticated—or sophisticated and popular.”

It’s the third time Choplin has presented West Side Story—the first time was at Châtelet in 2007. The show—music by Bernstein, book by Arthur Laurents and lyrics by Stephen Sondheim, his first Broadway credit—is directed and choreographed (reproducing Jerome Robbins’ original) by Joey McKneely, a Robbins protégé. The production, presented in English, with French surtitles, is the same as the 2007 and 2012 ones, but with a new cast, and is on a world tour.

This is just the beginning of Choplin’s goals for the new theatre,…

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