Earlier this week, the very talented actor/comedian Suni Reyes let us know about a West Side Story parody video that she and her fellow collaborators published on YouTube. We checked it out, and to be honest, we thought it was clever, funny, and yes, uncomfortable, but in a good way.
After stepping back and applauding the risky genius of this work, we reached out to Reyes about the video. This is what she told us.
Latino Rebels: So why do a parody video now?
Suni Reyes: As the news of a West Side Story remake being in the works with Steven Spielberg and Tony Kushner broke out (and there is also a Broadway revival in the works), tons of people were telling me, “Are you auditioning for the new West Side Story?” “Spielberg is directing, you have to audition!”
And as a Puerto Rican artist who can sing, dance, and act, I started flirting with the idea. “Will they actually cast Puerto Ricans, this time?” “Should I audition?” “I mean, I made it to the last callback for the Broadway revival 10yrs ago…LOL” But as a Puerto Rican, born and raised on the island that is now going through one of the toughest times in it’s history, where not even a year ago, millions of people were dealing with the devastation from Hurricane Maria, where people waited for months to get back their electricity and water (including my family), where thousands have been displaced and forced to emigrate due to the economic and human crisis, where over 4,000 people lost their lives due to the lack of help, the negligence and incompetence of the local and federal government in the aftermath of Hurricane Maria, and where Trump went to brag about the “low” death toll and throw paper towels, I couldn’t do it!
So, I had this crazy idea of using my skills as a comedian and a writer to do a parody of the holy grail of musical theatre and question the relevance of a revival. It’s a classic, I know! It gave us national treasures Chita Rivera and Rita Moreno, but it also brought a lot of conflicted feelings to a lot of Puerto Ricans. The musical is full of mislabeled Puerto Rican references and stereotypes (otherness, gang members, tons of babies, bullets flying, money owing, etc.), and its still the main reference for a lot of people regarding Puerto Ricans and Latino immigrants.
LR: And why the song “America?”
SR: I chose the song “America” because well, let’s be honest, she is all over the news these days. “America” is also a song that sells a very naive American dream, and looks down on the beauty of Puerto Rico and its people, so I wanted to do a version that was more pro-Puerto Rico and authentic. And what a better way to digest the crude reality America and Puerto Rico are going through today, than with singing and dancing.
Sometimes you have to question the past and the present, to get a better future. #woke
LR: What do you want to get out of the video?
SR: My goal with this video is to start this long overdue conversation about the authenticity of West Side Story regarding Puerto Rican culture, and for Steven Spielberg to call me. Or even Ivo van Hove.
Hopefully, they will see the video and say, “Hey Suni, help me make this remake right!” or say, “You know what? We don’t need a remake of this.”
Suni also asked us to make sure we include the many people who helped with the video.
SR: I could’ve not done this without the amazing crew and cast who believed in my crazy idea from the beginning and supported the message. Maria Wojciechowski dove in this crazy, problematic, white American musical theatre nerd head first, and Ana Breton, the DP, said yes, even before the script was finalized 🙂