West Side Story 2021 film: everything you need to know
Steven Spielberg is directing the new version of the iconic film
It's still due to be released at the end of this year (so that's something to look forward to!) so we thought we'd spill as many beans as possible about the upcoming new film version of West Side Story, directed by the rather eminent Steven Spielberg.
What on earth is West Side Story?
Well done for emerging from that cave you've clearly been in for the last sixty years. With music by Leonard Bernstein, lyrics by Stephen Sondheim, and a book by Arthur Laurents, West Side Story is the multi-award-winning American take on Romeo and Juliet, with the young lovers, Tony and Maria, trapped in a feud between rival street gangs – the Sharks and the Jets. The 1961 film adaption directed by Robert Wise and Jerome Robbins remains a classic.
Who's in it?
Let's jump into it: Ansel Elgort as Tony, Rachel Zegler as Maria, Ariana DeBose as Anita, David Alvarez as Bernardo, and Josh Andrés Rivera as Chino are the main cast, with Broadway vets Brian d'Arcy James and Corey Stoll joining them as Sergeant Krupke and Lieutenant Schrank, respectively.
Rita Moreno, who won an Oscar for her portrayal of Anita in the 1961 original, will take the role of Valentina, a reworked version of the character Doc, who owns the store where Tony works. This is one of our first hints of how this West Side Story will operate by a different script than the one created six decades ago.
The Sharks ensemble in the film includes (just taking a deep breath for these) David Aviles Morales, Yesenia Ayala, María Alejandra Castillo, Annelise Cepero, Andrei Chagas, Jeanette Delgado, Kelvin Delgado, Gaby Diaz, Yurel Echezarreta, Adriel Flete, Carlos E. Gonzalez, David Guzman, Jacob Guzman, Ana Isabelle, Melody Martí, Ilda Mason, Juliette Feliciano Ortiz, Edriz E. Rosa Pérez, Maria Alexis Rodriguez, Julius Anthony Rubio, Carlos Sánchez Falú, Sebastian Serra, Gabriela Soto, Ricky Ubeda, Tanairi Vazquez, Jamila Velazquez, Isabella Ward, and Ricardo Zayas.
The Jets include Brianna Abruzzo, Kyle Allen, Kyle Coffman, Ben Cook, Harrison Coll, Kevin Csolak, Kellie Drobnick, Julian Elia, Myles Erlick, Leigh-Ann Esty, Sara Esty, Mike Faist, John Michael Fiumara, Paloma Garcia-Lee, Garett Hawe, Patrick Higgins, Sean Harrison Jones, Eloise Kropp, Lauren Leach, Jess LeProtto, Skye Mattox, Ezra Menas, Adriana Pierce, Brittany Pollack, Daniel Patrick Russell, Talia Ryder, Jonalyn Saxer, Halli Toland, and Maddie Ziegler.
That's a lot of people – what about the creative team?
Fair play to you for asking – always worth giving creatives a shout-out. Writing a new screenplay will be Tony Kushner, who, in addition to his masterpiece drama Angels in America, wrote the book to the underrated musical Caroline, or Change. Justin Peck (Tony winner for Carousel) has the massive job of creating new choreography for a title closely associated with Jerome Robbins's iconic dance-fight sequences. (Do you instantly picture a guy snapping his fingers below his raised knees when you think of West Side Story? Robbins is the reason why.) Altogether, it looks like we can expect big changes from this remake.
Perhaps the most surprising member of the new creative team is the film's director, Spielberg. Best known for his action-adventure and sci-fi blockbusters, Spielberg has long harbored a desire to direct movie musicals. A populist filmmaker with a knack for showmanship and high emotion, he might just prove to be the ideal movie-musical director (if the glitzy opening sequence of Indiana Jones and the Temple of Doom is any indication).
Sorry to be a pedant, but if it remains a classic, what's the point of a remake when we can always watch the old movie?
On first consideration, it would seem that stage revivals make more sense than film remakes: A great musical might spend decades without being revived before it returns to dazzle a whole new generation of theatergoers. Conversely, movies live forever on the DVD shelf, or, if you are into the whole internet thing, online, so there's always a way to see them.
But a huge part of the joy of Broadway revivals is seeing how new directors, designers, and performers approach material we think we know. Sometimes, we even discover things about that show we never saw before. That's certainly the case with the new Broadway revival of Oklahoma! or the modern revival of Company.
Revivals also give writers an opportunity to reimagine their own work, retrofitting it for a new time and cast. Musical theatre composers like Kander and Ebb (Cabaret) and Stephen Sondheim (who penned the lyrics to West Side Story) have enthusiastically leapt at the opportunity to revise their shows. It's an inspiring assertion of musical theatre as a living art form, and filmmakers should have that same opportunity for movie musicals.
Many people have also pointed out how awkwardly problematic the original film is, with white actors portraying Puerto Rican characters. Hopefully this new version will go towards setting things right.
Is this the beginning of a trend?
That depends on how well West Side Story does at the box office, but we're beginning to see hints that it might be. While Disney is full-steam-ahead with its movie-musical remakes (Aladdin and The Lion King both came out last year), other studios have yet to fully jump onboard.
Production companies are now lining up to take a crack at classic titles, and if West Side Story does well at the box office this may continue. We've heard rumblings of new versions of Guys and Dolls, Fiddler on the Roof, A Chorus Line for starters.
Has a movie musical ever been remade like this?
Yes, although it is still somewhat rare compared to the long tradition of stage revivals. The most notable example is Show Boat, which was made as a part-talkie in 1929, almost immediately remade as an all-sound movie musical in 1936, and then lavishly reimagined in Technicolor for MGM in 1951. Other remade movie musicals include State Fair (1945 and 1962), Fame (1980 and 2009), Annie (1982 and 2014) and Footloose (1984 and 2011). Jesus Christ Superstar had two outings – in 1972 and 1999.
When can I see it?
Look at you all keen – the film is currently scheduled to open on 18 December 2021 and, considering cinemas are managing to weather the Covid storm slightly more than theatres, we hope this is the case.