Mills directed spots, Johnson supervised choreography

NEW YORK — Richard and Lili Fini Zanuck may not have enlisted Debbie Allen’s terpsichorean talents for this year’s Academy Awards, but that doesn’t mean TV viewers won’t be getting their fill of choreography.

On Oscar night, retail giant the Gap will premiere three spots taken from Broadway’s 1957 musical “West Side Story,” using Jerome Robbins’ original choreography for the Leonard Bernstein songs “America,” “Cool” and “The Mambo.”

The three 30-second commercials differ from the tuner in one major respect other than length: The Sharks and the Jets have been replaced by the Jeans and the Khakis. A print ad featuring Gap Khakis, shot in pastel colors, and Gap Jeans, shot in bolder colors, was unveiled in Vanity Fair’s current Hollywood issue, among other glossies. It features young dancers on a rooftop, but in no other way refers to “West Side Story.”

Likewise, the TV commercials do not use Stephen Sondheim’s lyrics. In the final “Mambo” spot, the Jeans and the Khakis collide in a dance-off in which they ask, “Are you a jean or a khaki?”

Stepping back

The original Robbins choreography was reproduced for the TV spots by Alan Johnson, a member of the 1960 Broadway cast of “West Side Story.”

“We wouldn’t have done it without Alan Johnson,” said Floria Lasky, Robbins’ longtime attorney at the firm of Fitelson, Lasky, Aslin & Couture in New York City. “He has been reproducing ‘West Side Story’ choreography for years and years. He was Robbins’ personally anointed choice, which is why we let this happen.”

Rachel di Carlo, a Gap VP, confirmed that the jeans company first approached reps of Sondheim and the Bernstein and Robbins estates with the project in late 1999.

Reps pleased

Lasky said that representatives of the Robbins estate were “very happy” with the Gap TV commercials. An added incentive for the use of Robbins’ dances was the absence of any other choreography in this year’s Oscarcast, said the attorney.

So how much does it cost to borrow a few “West Side Story” set pieces for your commercial? Harry Kraut, general manager of the Bernstein estate, put that amount in the low seven figures.

Mike Mills directed the three Gap commercials.

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