Steven Spielberg’s highly anticipated adaptation of West Side Story finally hit theaters on December 10th after a year-long delay due to the pandemic. With a screenplay by Tony Kushner and choreography by Justin Peck, the Romeo and Juliet retelling tells the story of star crossed lovers Tony (Ansel Elgort) and María (Rachel Zelgler) as they attempt to navigate their romance in 1957 New York City amongst their rival gangs.
West Side Story gives the new wave of movie musicals a breath of fresh air. The movie doesn’t strive to be what it isn’t. Spielberg based his version of West Side Story on the original Broadway musical rather than remaking the original 1961 film. Because of this, the movie doesn’t feel like an adaptation or a remake, but an entirely new version of the musical that changed nothing drastic from the plot.
Rachel Zelgler simply is María Vasquez, and the movie would quite honestly not work if Spielberg had casted someone else, as she plays María with childish innocence that comes on full force as the movie ends. Hamilton alum Ariana Debose takes on the iconic role of Anita while David Alvarez plays María’s controlling yet lovable older brother Bernardo. Mike Faist plays the Jets leader Riff, whose performance I was pleasantly surprised by. Rita Moreno plays the new character Valentina, acting as a mother figure/mentor for the Jets and the Sharks.
As much as I enjoyed the main cast, my eyes were always following the ensemble of dancers who make up the Jets and the Sharks. I was a huge Fan of Newsies in middle school, and my excitement for this movie basically came from the ex-Newsies cast members in the ensemble (side note: thank you Steven Spielberg for basically giving me a Newsies reunion). While I was watching the movie for the first time, it became a game for me to point out who I knew within the ensemble. At one point during the school dance scene right before Tony and María meet for the first time, you can catch a glimpse of Maddie Ziegler dancing with Ben Tyler Cook, which would’ve put middle school me into a stroke.
I highly recommend that you see West Side Story if you haven’t already and you’re a musical theater fan. Even if you’re just a fan of Steven Spielberg, this movie has something for everyone that will make you fall in love with it.