Steven Spielberg's West Side Story: Everything You Need to Know
5/4/2021 • 4 min read
One of the greatest musicals dances back to the big screen in a new form later this year! When Arthur Laurents, Leonard Bernstein, and Stephen Sondheim created the 1957 Broadway musical "West Side Story," they turned the inspiration of William Shakespeare's "Romeo & Juliet" into a crowd-pleasing musical romance with a resonant message.
It's the story of the rivalry between two New York City gangs, the white Jets and Puerto Rican Sharks, and of the romance which might bridge the divide between them if it doesn't make the situation far worse. In 1961, the original WEST SIDE STORY movie became the highest-grossing film of 1961 and won ten Oscars.
Now, Steven Spielberg, who was fascinated by both the original musical and the first movie adaptation, has directed a new version, which is set for release this Christmas. Here's everything we know about Spielberg's new WEST SIDE STORY.
The New West Side Story Release Date
WEST SIDE STORY will be released by 20th Century Studios and The Walt Disney Company in the US on December 10, 2021.
Watch the West Side Story Trailer!
This first WEST SIDE STORY trailer is pretty spare, at least depending on what you're looking for. It only introduces the new cast in glimpses and flashes, and the movie's songbook is represented only by a new version of "Somewhere." But those glimpses and flashes are tantalizing, and they're part of something bigger.
This WEST SIDE STORY trailer also gives us a sense of the visual approach that Steven Spielberg and cinematographer Janusz Kamiński, with whom Spielberg has worked since the early 1990s, have created for the remake. We see extremely wide shots that emphasize physical motion and the choreography of the large cast. Many recent musicals are smaller in scope than the classic MGM musicals which inspired the staging of the original 1961 movie. We can't wait to see how the movie's song and dance numbers are brought to new life.
What Makes This Version Different?
The 1961 movie by Robert Wise and Jerome Robbins has electric filmmaking, dynamite dancing, and some really adventurous editing that makes the musical numbers truly sing — but it also feels like a product of its time. Notably, many of the Puerto Rican characters were played by white actors, including the lead character Maria, who was played by Natalie Wood.
A notable exception to that pattern was Maria's close friend Anita, played by Puerto Rican performer Rita Moreno, who won an Oscar for the role. Spielberg made Moreno an executive producer on the new movie and oversaw the creation of a new role specifically for her.
Steven Spielberg told Vanity Fair that "this story is not only a product of its time, but that time has returned, and it’s returned with a kind of social fury. I really wanted to tell that Puerto Rican, Nuyorican experience of basically the migration to this country and the struggle to make a living, and to have children, and to battle against the obstacles of xenophobia and racial prejudice."
Steven Spielberg's Love of West Side Story
The director of JAWS, SCHINDLER'S LIST, and LINCOLN has explained that his childhood home was dominated by classical music and that the original "West Side Story" cast recording album was the first popular music he really heard. So it holds a special place in his history. Making his own version of WEST SIDE STORY "has been that one haunting temptation that I have finally given in to," he told Vanity Fair.
The West Side Story Cast
One of the major decisions that informed the new WEST SIDE STORY was that the Hispanic characters would all be played by actors with Hispanic backgrounds. New talent Rachel Zegler plays Maria, the young Puerto Rican woman whose family was part of a wave of immigrants which came to New York City in the years following World War II. David Alvarez plays Bernardo, the leader of the Sharks, while Ariana DeBose ("Summer: The Donna Summer Musical" and the original cast of "Hamilton") plays Anita.
Other Sharks include Quique (Julius Anthony Rubio), Chago (Ricardo Zayas), Chino (Josh Andrés Rivera), Braulio (Sebastian Serra) and Pipo (Carlos Sánchez Falú). Ana Isabelle plays Rosalia while Rita Moreno plays Valentina, who in this version is the widow of store owner Doc.
Ansel Elgort co-stars as Tony, the former Jets leader who falls in love with Maria. The members of the Jets include Anybodys (Ezra Menas), Mouthpiece (Ben Cook), Action (Sean Harrison Jones); Baby John (Patrick Higgins) and the leader, Riff (Mike Faist). Corey Stoll plays Lieutenant Schrank while Brian d’Arcy James is Officer Krupke.
WEST SIDE STORY comes to theatres in December!
All images courtesy of 20th Century Studios, Walt Disney Pictures.