‘West Side Story’: Everything You Need to Know About the Steven Spielberg Remake That Has Critics Buzzing (2023)

We are used to seeing Steven Spielberg’s name working on sci-fi favorites like Jurassic Park and Minority Report, as well as war narratives like Schindler’s List and Saving Private Ryan, but the renowned director has finally made his first-ever musical production. West Side Story is a beloved Broadway musical set in New York with a Romeo and Juliet feel. Maria and Tony come from different ethnic backgrounds and live out an impossible love affair, due to the tensions between their group of friends and families known as the Jets and the Sharks. The original 1961 adaptation is cherished by many musical enthusiasts and went on to win 10 Academy Awards, including Best Motion Picture.

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Since it is almost time to witness Spielberg’s take on the iconic rendition of “America”, we have grouped all the bits of information about West Side Story that we know so far.

RELATED: Steven Spielberg, 'West Side Story' Cast Honor Stephen Sondheim at NYC Premiere

Watch the West Side Story Trailer

The official trailer came out on September 15th, featuring exuberant cinematography and a brief look into the new Sharks and Jets coming to the big screen.

Check out the trailer in the player below!

When Is West Side Story Coming Out in Theaters?

Believe it or not, West Side Story will arrive in theatres before the end of the year! The musical will come out on December 10, 2021, more than a year after the original release date.

Due to the pandemic, production was halted multiple times since it began in 2019. To top things off, this year marks the 60th anniversary of the award-winning feature film. What better way to commemorate the occasion with newly produced dance sequences and musical numbers directed by one of the great filmmakers of our time?

Who is in the Cast of the 2021 Remake?

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The time has come for us to get to know the new faces that will portray the leads in West Side Story. Rachel Zegler, a high school student from New Jersey is not only a new name in Hollywood but she will also bring Maria to life in the 2021 adaptation. In an interview with Vogue, Zegler described the new version as “a beautiful display of Latin joy and the way that young Latin girls deserve to see themselves—dancing around in pretty dresses and singing about loving themselves. It’s something that’s mattered so much to me, being Latina—singing ‘I Feel Pretty’ and meaning it. I hope that young people everywhere will know that their features are gorgeous and their culture is beautiful. I think that’s what it’s meant to my family”

After starring in The Fault in Our Stars and Baby Driver, Ansel Elgort will showcase his vocals in West Side Story as Tony, Maria’s love interest.

Broadway alum David Alvarez will play Maria’s brother Bernardo and Ariana DeBose will play his girlfriend Anita. The two will be responsible for trying to stop Maria and Tony’s relationship from coming to fruition, due to their clashing backgrounds.

Former Dance Moms star Maddie Ziegler will be Velma, one of the Jets’ members. As for Tony’s counterpart Riff, Mike Feist is portraying the gangster on the big screen, and from what we can tell by the trailer, his face off with the Sharks will be an intense match.

For those who grew up with the 1961 film, there is an interesting fact that you should know about this remake. Rita Moreno, who originally played Anita in the previous adaptation, will be back for this version in a new role. She will portray Valentina, the owner of the store in which Tony works in. The actress shared about her experience revisiting this Broadway classic in a recent interview with Deadline: “Never in my wildest dreams did I see myself revisiting this seminal work. 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!”

Is It Getting Good Reviews?

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Spielberg is no stranger to critical acclaim, and West Side Story is shaping up to be another highly-praised critical darling for the filmmaker. The review embargo for West Side Story just lifted on December 2, and the film is currently sitting at an outstanding 96% on Rotten Tomatoes at the time of this publishing. Collider's Matt Goldberg called the film a "total triumph" in his A-grade review, saying:

"It’s clear that both Spielberg and Kushner have a deep and abiding respect for the material, and that they approach West Side Story not to “fix” it, but to provide minor updates that help further emphasize the strengths of Arthur Laurents, Leonard Bernstein, Stephen Sondheim, and Jerome Robbins’ work. That doesn’t mean making the film “grittier” or “cooler” but embracing it as a classic musical and trusting that audiences will be swept up in it as they have been for decades."

You can see more reactions here, which seem to be pretty glowing across the board.

Why Is West Side Story Spielberg’s Passion Project?

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In the same way that E.T. the Extraterrestrial was made based off Spielberg’s childhood dealing with his parents’ divorce, West Side Story channels the director’s memories growing up watching the award-winning classic. In a featurette for 20th Century Studios, Spielberg revealed the promise he made to himself at 10 years old to make West Side Story. He also spoke about the relevance of this story nowadays:

“Divisions between un-likeminded people is as old as time itself, and the divisions between the Sharks and the Jets in 1957, which inspired the musical, were profound. But not as divided as we find ourselves today.”

In addition to bringing a new spin on West Side Story, Spielberg made sure to highlight that the original was great as it was, but rarely featured a Latinx ensemble to portray the Sharks. This is an element that was crucial in the casting process for this adaptation, so as a result, there is a solely Latinx cast playing the Sharks this time around.

Who Wrote the Score for the Feature Film?

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It is impossible to think about West Side Story without appreciating the musical arrangements by Leonard Bernstein to the lyrics by recently deceased Stephen Sondheim. The score for Spielberg’s version of the musical was adapted by David Newman, who also wrote the score for Ice Age and Matilda. The film composer has already been nominated for an Academy Award before, so you never know, maybe this might be his chance to win.

Who Wrote the Screenplay for West Side Story?

Tony Kushner, the renowned playwright behind Angels in America, adapted the screenplay from the original Broadway script by Arthur Laurents. Given that the Broadway version was the source of material that he focused on, the 2021 film might be even closer to the original screenplay than the 1961 adaptation to the screen.

Who is the Choreographer for West Side Story?

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We all know that performances like “America” and “Cool” are heavily reliant on the choreography to make it a visual blast. With this in mind, Tony-winning New York City Ballet choreographer Justin Peck will be attentive to the details as he directs the dance numbers for West Side Story. This is even a musical that hits close to home for him, since Peck’s first leading role as a dance performer was playing Bernardo.

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