Steven Spielberg has tackled science fiction (“E.T.: the Extra Terrestrial), adventure epics (the Indiana Jones franchise), horror films (“Jaws”), biopics (“Lincoln”), family movies (“The B.F.G.”), action thrillers (“Minority Report”), war films (“Saving Private Ryan”), and historical dramas (“Schindler’s List”), but he’s about to do something he’s never done in his nearly 50 years of directing: A full-blown movie musical. Enter “West Side Story,” Leonard Bernstein and Stephen Sondheim’s iconic musical about rival street gangs. The story itself is inspired by Shakespeare’s “Romeo & Juliet,” and there’s already been one “West Side Story” movie that won 10 Oscars (including Best Picture) and is widely regarded as one of the best movie musicals ever made. No pressure, Spielberg.
Spielberg’s “West Side Story” is written by frequent collaborator Tony Kushner, who earned screenwriting Oscar nominations for penning the director’s “Munich” and “Lincoln.” Ansel Elgort takes on the lead role of Tony opposite newcomer Rachel Zegler as Maria. The ensemble cast also includes “The Prom” star Ariana DeBose as Anita, David Alvarez as Bernardo, and Mike Faist as Riff. Also appearing are Corey Stroll, Brian d’Arcy James, and Rita Moreno, whose performance as Anita in the 1961 film won her the Oscar for Best Supporting Actress.
“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,” Spielberg told Vanity Fair last year. “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.”
Spielberg only wanted Hispanic performers to play the Hispanic characters in his film. According to the filmmaker, 20 of the 33 Puerto Rican characters in his “West Side Story” are “specifically Puerto Rican or of Puerto Rican descent.”
“They brought an authenticity,” Spielberg said. “They brought themselves, and everything they believe and everything about them — they brought that to the work. And there was so much interaction between the cast wanting to be able to commit to the Puerto Rican experience. They all represent, I think, a diversity, both within the Puerto Rican, Nuyorican community as well as the broader Latinx community. And they took that seriously.”
“West Side Story” is set to open in theaters December 10 from Disney and 20th Century Studios. Watch the first trailer for the musical in the video below.