A West Side Story revival premiered on Broadway this past Thursday night, but the opening was met with about 100 protesters.
The protesters gathered outside the theater to demand the removal of cast member Amar Ramasar, who is performing the role of the Sharks gang leader Bernardo. Previously, Ramasar was allegedly involved in a scandal that took place during his time at the New York City Ballet. He was fired, then reinstated, by the ballet company in 2018 after being accused of sending sexually explicit photos of his girlfriend to another dancer. Those protesting the actor held signs like “Sexual predators shouldn’t get leading roles on Broadway” and “Keep predators off the stage.”
— Rebecca Rubin (@rebeccaarubin) February 20, 2020
Paige Levy, a 17-year-old high school student and aspiring performer, spear-headed the protest, telling Variety that “Even if he’s not removed, we’ve started a conversation that they can’t stop.” Alexandra Waterbury, a former student of the School of American Ballet, was also in attendance of the protest; she sued her ex-boyfriend Chase Finlay who shared explicit images of her with Ramasar and others. She named Ramasar in the suit as well.
The producers have refused to remove Ramasar from the production, noting in a statement that “there is zero consideration being given to his potentially being terminated from this workplace.” Waterbury, among others, are upset with the producers’ lack of response to the matter. Nonetheless, those in attendance hope the protest will spark a conversation and potentially help a decrease in ticket sales or help producers change their mind on the matter. A petition to remove Ramasar from the Broadway stage currently has over 49,000 signatures.
“If people aren’t coming specifically because of [Ramasar’s] casting, maybe they will change, because clearly they’re only concerned with money,” Waterbury told Variety.
West Side Story, the revival of Stephen Sondheim’s original production, has been adapted 50 years later for the Great White Way. The play began previews in December and is set to run at the Broadway Theater, but the opening was slightly delayed while the lead actor Isaac Powell recovered from an onstage knee injury. The new production has a more modern take, while still offering the classic love story revolving around the fatal rivalry of gangs the Sharks and the Jets in the Upper West Side of New York City.