First look: Steven Spielberg is bringing West Side Story back to the big screen

news Mar 18, 2020

Heavyweight American filmmaker Steven Spielberg is the man behind some of the biggest sci-fi and action movies including E.T. the Extra-Terrestrial, Indiana Jones, Jurassic Park and Saving Private Ryan. But this December, Spielberg prepares to serve up something a little different to his audience by bringing the Broadway classic West Side Story back to the big screen. For the first time, we've been given a sneak peek into what this highly anticipated film will look like and the results are refreshing.

"West Side Story has been that one haunting temptation that I have finally given in to" – Steven Spielberg
Ansel Elgort and Rachel Zegler as star-crossed lovers Tony and Maria. Photo: Niko Tavernise/Twentieth Century Studios.

West Side Story remains one of the most poignant stage works of the twentieth century. An instant hit when it opened on Broadway in 1957, this modern adaptation of Romeo and Juliet was made into a film in 1961 and went on to break box office records and dominate the Oscars, winning 10 awards including best picture.

Six decades later, Spielberg aims to hold true to what made this story classic and help accentuate its cultural message in an authentic way. Although the original movie was a hit, it was very much a product of its time, with most of the Puerto Rican cast actually white actors in heavy bronze makeup. For his adaptation, Spielberg cast only Hispanic performers to play the Hispanic characters, with 20 of the 33 Puerto Rican cast being specifically Puerto Rican or of Puerto Rican descent.

"The cast brought an authenticity, they brought themselves and everything they believe to the work" – Steven Spielberg
Rita Moreno as Valentina. Photo: Niko Tavernise/Twentieth Century Studios.

Adding to this, Spielberg made veteran actress Rita Moreno (above), who won an Oscar for playing Anita in the 1961 movie, an executive producer on the film and also cast her as the newly-created character 'Valentina'. Moreno is said to have joined the project to help right some of the wrongs of the 1961 film, including the whitewashing.

(Left) Rachel Zegler as Maria. (Right) Ansel Elgort as Tony. Photos: Niko Tavernise/Twentieth Century Studios.

Some exciting fresh faces make up the young cast, with The Fault in Our Stars actor Ansel Elgort cast as the streetwise Casanova Tony and newcomer Rachel Zegler winning the role of Maria. This will be Zegler's first major onscreen performance, with critics interested to see if she can carry the role that was made famous by Hollywood superstar Natalie Wood. Broadway star and Tony Award nominee Ariana DeBose will take on the role of Maria’s feisty best friend Anita, who will bring a new element of diversity to the role as an Afro-Latina.

"I’m Afro-Latina and I said to [Spielberg], 'As a woman of colour, if you’re going to consider me for this role, I would potentially be the darkest woman to play her onscreen...' It was fun from the jump to feel like I was contributing to his new vision in a way." – Ariana DeBose
Broadway star Ariana DeBose as Anita and David Alvarez, to her right, as Sharks leader Bernardo. Photo: Niko Tavernise/Twentieth Century Studios.

Spielberg’s West Side Story is scheduled for release this December; with the first trailer still to drop, we're very excited to see how the finished product will breathe vibrant new life into this classic musical production.

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