West Side Story (12A)
West Side Story (12A)
Director: Steven Spielberg
Runtime: 2 Hours 36 Mins
Cast: Ansel Elgort, Rachel Zegler, Ariana DeBose, David Alvarez, Mike Faist, Josh Andres Rivera, Ana Isabelle, Corey Stoll, Brian d’Arcy James and Rita Moreno
Synopsis: Directed by Academy Award® winner Steven Spielberg, from a screenplay by Pulitzer Prize and Tony Award® winner Tony Kushner, “West Side Story” tells the classic tale of fierce rivalries and young love in 1957 New York City.
Directed by Academy Award® winner Steven Spielberg, from a screenplay by Pulitzer Prize and Tony Award® winner Tony Kushner, West Side Story tells the classic tale of fierce rivalries and young love in 1957 New York City.
This flamboyant, colourful reimagining of the beloved musical for today’s audiences, stars Ansel Elgort [The Fault in Our Stars (2014), Baby Driver (2017), The Goldfinch (2019)] as Tony and introduces a new star in Rachel Zegler, whose talent won her the role of Maria over 30,000 hopefuls. Rita Moreno – one of only three artists to be honoured with Academy®, Emmy®, GRAMMY®, Tony® and Peabody Awards – stars as Valentina, who owns the corner store in which Tony works. Her countless credits span more than seven decades, beginning with her Broadway debut at age thirteen. Moreno has starred on Broadway and London’s West End, appeared in more than forty feature films and is famous also for her role as Anita in the 1961 West Side Story film directed by Jerome Robbins and Robert Wise.
Also among the sparkling ensemble are: Ariana DeBose [Schmigadoon (2021), Hamilton (2020)] as Anita; David Alvarez [(American Rust (TV – 2021)] as boxer brother, Bernardo; Mike Faist [(Dear Evan Hansen (2017)] as Riff – leader of the Jets; Brian d’Arcy James [(Spotlight (2017)] as Officer Krupke; Corey Stoll [(The Many Saints of Newark (2021)] as Lieutenant Schrank; Josh Andrés Rivera as Chino; and non-binary actor Iris Means [(Ridley Jones (TV 2021)] as transgender character, Anybodys.
The new film has a distinctly different and refreshing look, with diversity in casting:
“On stage the actors have largely not been Hispanic, and in the 1961 movie they’re in their 30s, and many who were portraying the Puerto Ricans are white. I wanted to cast it authentically, to ensure that the actors playing the Shark boys and girls were one hundred percent Latinx, and young,” says Spielberg.
Bringing together the best of both Broadway and Hollywood, the film’s creative team includes Kushner; Tony Award® winner Justin Peck, who choreographed the musical numbers in the film; renowned Los Angeles Philharmonic conductor and GRAMMY Award® winner Gustavo Dudamel, who helmed the recording of the iconic score; Academy Award® nominated composer and conductor David Newman (Anastasia), who arranged the score; Tony Award® winning composer Jeanine Tesori (Fun Home, Thoroughly Modern Millie), who supervised the cast on vocals; and Grammy® nominated music supervisor Matt Sullivan (Beauty and the Beast, Chicago), who served as executive music producer for the film.
West Side Story has been adapted for the screen from the original 1957 Broadway show, with book by Arthur Laurents, music by Leonard Bernstein, lyrics by Stephen Sondheim and concept, direction and choreography by Jerome Robbins.
Glorious cinematography from Janusz Kaminski showcases the technical brilliance, lively choreography and New York City – also a character in the drama, providing the context and landscape in which the rival gangs endured. Entire neighbourhoods were being torn down and populations displaced. The Jets and Sharks, subjected to that upheaval, are fighting for territory that is disappearing before their eyes – destruction of an entire section of the Upper West Side.
The action of the new film occurs in the summer of 1957 on the streets of adjoining Upper West. In the early 1950s, Robert Moses – the New York City Commissioner for Public Works – razed the entire stretch of land for the construction of Lincoln Center for the Performing Arts and Fordham University, among other projects.
The displacement of these populations and its impact on the neighbourhoods form a crucial element to Kushner’s screenplay. He describes the area at the start of the film as “a vast wasteland of rubble, demolished and partially demolished tenements, crisscrossed by streets, all the way to the Hudson River.”
Love at first sight strikes when young Tony – not long out of jail and trying to avoid gangs – spots Maria at a high school dance in 1957 New York City. Their burgeoning romance helps to fuel the fire between the warring Jets and Sharks – two rival gangs vying for control of the streets.
Steven Spielberg is currently Hollywood’s most commercially successful director and in a storied career that has gained multiple Oscar wins, his films have crossed every conceivable genre throughout the decades from popcorn adventure (Raiders of the Lost Ark, 1981) to sci-fi (E.T, 1982), Jurassic Park, 1993); Holocaust drama (Schindler’s List, 1993) to paranoid Cold War thriller (Bridge of Spies, 2015).
This is his first musical and his remake of the classic Leonard Bernstein/Stephen Sondheim production is a dazzling 60th anniversary tribute to the original, with breathtaking digital wizardry to create the ambience of 1957 Upper West Side, NYC, with the piles of rubble from bulldozed buildings awaiting urban renewal.
“What is so wonderful about this story is that, no matter how much the world around us changes, the lessons and insights it offers us do not. It’s a story that has captivated audiences for decades because it is not just a love story, but also a culturally significant work with a central premise – that love transcends prejudice and intolerance – that hasn’t lost its relevance over time.
“‘West Side Story’ means so much to so many, and I’m thrilled to have this chance to give it new life and share it with a new audience,” Spielberg has commented.
Certain to be an award winner, this visually stunning new West Side Story features breathtaking versions of all the classic songs and is a cinematic triumph. Take tissues and expect golden earworms after this retelling of doomed, young love.
Images courtesy of: 20th Century Studios, The Walt Disney Company