Rita Moreno has joined the cast of Steven Spielberg’s “West Side Story” remake, based on the Oscar-winning 1961 film and 1957 Broadway musical, Deadline reports. The original show was written by Arthur Laurents with music by Leonard Bernstein and lyrics by Stephen Sondheim. Moreno starred as Anita in the original film, taking over for Chita Rivera, who originated the role on Broadway. Moreno will also act as executive producer on the Spielberg remake.
Moreno will play a new character named Valentina, a gender-swapped and expanded version of Doc, who owns the corner store where Tony works.
“Never in my wildest dreams did I see myself revisiting this seminal work,” Moreno told Deadline. “And to be asked by Steven Spielberg to participate is simply thrilling! Then to work together with the brilliant playwright Tony Kushner – what a glorious stew! I am tingling!”
This is a marked shift from comments she made earlier this fall. When asked if she would make a cameo in the Spielberg adaptation, Moreno said “that would be strange,” telling EW: “I think it would be distracting. No, no, no I don’t belong in there in any capacity.” She also expressed doubts about “Lincoln” screenwriter Tony Kushner being the right choice to pen a new script. “Tony Kushner, I get nervous,” she said. “I get nervous because you can only get just so gritty.”
“West Side Story” has been a passion project of Spielberg’s for over 30 years, and he cites it as one of his favorite films. “From our earliest discussions, we wanted to include Rita Moreno in our production,” Spielberg told Deadline. “Her Anita is one of the greatest musical performances ever filmed, and a personal favorite of mine. We created an original role for her, and we feel beyond fortunate that Rita will bring her extraordinary gifts as an actress, as well as her deep understanding of ‘West Side Story’ to this production as an executive producer.”
Spielberg will partner with 20th Century Fox and MGM for the remake, which has also enlisted “Baby Driver” star Ansel Elgort to play Tony. Filming on “West Side Story” is set to begin in summer 2019.