Put together one of the greatest movie musicals of all time, West Side Story, with iconic director Steven Spielberg, and you’ll create what is sure to be a show-stopping film adaptation.
Following a worldwide casting search, Spielberg’s production has found its star Maria, according to Deadline. Taking on the film’s leading lady is 17-year-old high school student from New Jersey, Rachel Zegler. Zegler first submitted an audition tape of herself singing “Tonight” and “Me Siento Hermosa” (“I Feel Pretty”) after seeing an announcement call on Twitter last year. West Side Story marks Zegler’s feature film debut. She will star alongside opposite Ansel Elgort, who will play Tony.
The high school student noted her excitement to take on the role on Instagram, writing, “When I played Maria on stage a few summers ago, I never could have imagined that I’d be taking on the role again in Steven Spielberg’s West Side Story… As a Colombian-American woman growing up in this day and age, strong roles like Maria are so important. To be able to bring that role to life— a role that means so much to the hispanic community— is so humbling.”
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when i played maria on stage a few summers ago, i never could have imagined that i’d be taking on the role again in steven spielberg’s ‘west side story’. i send a huge thank you to everyone who helped make this incredible dream a reality— i never could’ve done it alone. i am so honored to join the legendary @TheRitaMoreno, @ansel, @arianadebose, @davidalvarezofficial, @joshandresrivera and more in telling this impeccably poignant story. as a colombian-american woman growing up in this day and age, strong roles like maria are so important. to be able to bring that role to life— a role that means so much to the hispanic community— is so humbling. i hope you’re all as excited as i am. ♥️✨
In addition to the roles of the star-crossed lovers, other principal Shark and Jet roles have been filled by theater veterans. Ariana DeBose and David Alvarez join the Sharks as Anita and Bernardo respectively, while Josh Andrés Rivera takes on Chino. DeBose is known for her Tony-nominated role in Summer: The Donna Summer Musical, original roles in Hamilton, A Bronx Tale: The Musical, and Motown: The Musical. If she can play the legend Donna Summer eight times a week on Broadway, conquering Anita’s fierceness should not be an issue. Alverez, who won a Tony Award for his titular role in Billy Elliot: The Musical, also starred in 2014’s Broadway production of On the Town. Rivera was most recently seen in the first national tour of Hamilton.
“When we began this process a year ago, we announced that we would cast the roles of Maria, Anita, Bernardo, Chino and the Sharks with Latina and Latino actors. I’m so happy that we’ve assembled a cast that reflects the astonishing depth of talent in America’s multifaceted Hispanic community,” Spielberg said, as Deadline reported. “I am in awe of the sheer force of the talent of these young performers, and I believe they’ll bring a new and electrifying energy to a magnificent musical that’s more relevant than ever.”
The new cast joins Rita Moreno (the original Anita, the role that won her an Oscar in 1961) as Valentina, an expanded version of the character Doc, who owns the corner store where Tony works. Moreno will also serve as executive producer on the film.
Spielberg will produce and direct the film, with a script penned by Pulitzer Prize-winning playwright Tony Kushner and adapted from the 1957 Broadway musical. Justin Peck, who won the 2018 Tony Award for his choreography on Carousel, will choreograph the film.
The new film adaptation is scheduled to begin filming this summer, with additional casting announcements anticipated within the next few weeks to round out the Sharks and the Jets.
Photo: Donaldson Collection/Getty Images