Gee, Officer Krupke, you’ve changed

By Laura Collins-Hughes
Globe Staff / June 12, 2011

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NEW BRUNSWICK, N.J. — To hear director David Saint tell it, “West Side Story’’ fans are an impassioned lot. Some have been known to yell at him about the new production.

“Sometimes I would get upset, until I realized that this has been such a part of people’s lives that they’ve taken ownership of this piece,’’ he said.

On the other hand, they’re not always right on the facts. There are those, for example, who accuse him of ruining the show by tinkering with the song order: moving “Cool’’ to Act 1 and “Gee, Officer Krupke’’ to Act 2.

“You should do it the way it was done originally,’’ they exhort him.

“You’re thinking of the movie,’’ Saint replies, explaining to them that “Cool’’ has always been in Act 1 and “Krupke’’ in Act 2 — at least in the stage musical, which predates the 1961 movie by four years.

“Most people who feel they are experts on ‘West Side Story’ have watched the movie 50 times,’’ he said. “The movie changed things.’’

While making the film, choreographer and co-director Jerome Robbins “was fired off the set. [Composer Leonard] Bernstein and [book writer Arthur] Laurents and [lyricist Stephen] Sondheim were banished from the set. They were all unhappy with the movie,’’ Saint said.

Saint’s touring production does change one thing significantly: the performance of “Krupke.’’

Originally, he said, it was intended to be “a song of manic intensity to cover the terror and the horror’’ that the young gang members are feeling, having just seen one friend killed, and another friend kill someone, in a rumble.

But Laurents wasn’t happy with the way Robbins first staged it on Broadway, Saint said. “It was too cute — in fact, so cute that in the movie they pushed it into the first act.’’

Laurents also wasn’t happy with the way he had staged it himself, in the revival. So Saint asked if he could redo “Krupke’’ for the tour. Laurents gave his blessing, and Saint explained the number to his young actors in terms they immediately understood: “South Park.’’

“It’s pretty raunchy,’’ Saint said. “They’re kids in a gang who are causing a scene, and they’re confronting authority, and that’s what the song is about.’’

Laurents saw the new, “South Park’’-style “Krupke’’ at the start of the tour, and he saw how the audience responded.

“Arthur said, ‘Keep it.’ ’’