Steven Spielberg’s adaptation of the beloved musical “West Side Story” finally began to screen for awards voters over the weekend ahead of its Christmas Day release. First reactions are pouring out as the film’s official premiere at the El Capitan Theatre in Los Angeles gets underway. Early reactions are offering praise for Spielberg’s direction and high marks for Rachel Zegler as Maria in her film debut.
The musical premiered mere days after the death of Stephen Sondheim (who wrote the lyrics for the original production, with a book by Arthur Laurents and score by Leonard Bernstein) at the age of 91. Highest praise for the new film version came from the composer himself, who back in September dropped by “The Late Show with Stephen Colbert” to talk about the most recent stage production of “Company” and, of course, Spielberg’s movie.
“It’s really terrific,” Sondheim said of the film. “Everybody go. You’ll really have a good time. And for those of you who know the show, there’s going to be some real surprises.”
Sondheim said that’s because of Pulitzer Prize-winner Tony Kushner, who has received two screenplay Oscar nominations for adapting the Spielberg films “Munich” and “Lincoln.”
Sondheim said Kushner “has done some really imaginative and surprising things with the way the songs are used in the story, and the whole thing has real sparkle to it and real energy, and it feels fresh. It’s really first-grade, and movie musicals are hard to do and this one, Spielberg and Kushner really, really nailed it.”
In addition to Zegler, this new version stars Ansel Elgort as Tony, Ariana DeBose as Anita, and David Alvarez as Bernardo. Rita Moreno, Best Supporting Actess Oscar winner for the original Best Picture-winning film, also makes a cameo appearance as Valentina.
Spielberg & Kushner’s West Side Story is powerful, driven by Bernstein & Sondheim’s sublime music and a gifted cast. With all the movie’s muscular choreography, the standouts are Broadway’s Ariana DeBose as Anita & Oscar-winning original Rita Moreno, and newcomer Rachel Zegler.
— Anne Thompson (@akstanwyck) November 30, 2021
WEST SIDE STORY is *phenomenal.* Steven Spielberg has been talking about making a musical for almost his entire career, and this was worth the wait. This is top-tier Spielberg.
— Chris Evangelista (@cevangelista413) November 30, 2021
Steven Spielberg’s West Side Story 2.0 is an ecstatic act of ancestor-worship: a vividly dreamed, cunningly modified, visually staggering revival, passionately conservative but brilliant. No-one but Spielberg could have brought it off – review later
— Peter Bradshaw (@PeterBradshaw1) November 30, 2021
WEST SIDE STORY: If it's not quite essential, it's still tremendously entertaining. Vivid, beautiful work from our greatest living American moviemaker. Invigorating choice to have subtitle-less Spanish comprise ~40% of dialogue. David Alvarez is the breakout, but everyone's aces.
— Barry Hertz (@HertzBarry) November 30, 2021
Embargo lifted: I saw West Side Story tonight and I’m happy to report that musical theater will show up at the Oscars for impeccable visuals, Ariana DeBose is A DAMN STAR and it’s only the beginning for Rachel Zegler. I love this for us.
— Ayanna P. (@AyannaPrescod) November 30, 2021
More on WEST SIDE STORY on the whole in a bit, but first … HOLY MOLY, Mike Faist as Riff. One of those performances that grabs you by the collar, stops your pulse, and demands attention. That exceedingly rare pleasure of feeling like a star is forming before your eyes. A thrill. pic.twitter.com/mWfzaRGaIT
— Marshall Shaffer (@media_marshall) November 30, 2021
Hot damn. So, yes, as it turns out, Steven Spielberg knows how to make a WEST SIDE STORY movie
— Mike Ryan (@mikeryan) November 30, 2021
WEST SIDE STORY thoughts:
Steven Spielberg directs the hell out of a mediocre script. What an eye-roll inducing story.
Anything related to The Jets is insufferable, hell most of The Sharks are as well. The ladies do the heavy-lifting. This is Zegler, DeBose, and Moreno’s movie
— EJ Moreno (@EJKhryst) November 30, 2021
Spielberg’s West Side Story does understand that the best thing that can happen on film is a bunch of people strutting toward the camera singing in harmony
— Jackson McHenry (@McHenryJD) November 30, 2021
WEST SIDE STORY has rocked my world.
Everyone is at the top of their game. Spielberg is a master. Under his direction, Kamiński is a camera wizard, aiming a show-stopping light on the shining star that is @rachelzegler.
So many things to rave over here. Too many to mention. pic.twitter.com/7oYeHM2dJa
— ᶜᴴᴿᴵˢ ˢᵀ ᴸᴬᵂᴿᴱᴺᶜᴱ (@ey2studios) November 30, 2021
I was hoping that WEST SIDE STORY (2021) would sate my decades-long desire for Spielberg to do a musical. Alas, it is so beautifully shot and staged, such an absolute schooling of the usual musical directors, that I fear I now want him to make two or three more.
— Jesse Hassenger (@rockmarooned) November 30, 2021