The 2021 Steven Spielberg West Side Story remake is set to be released in UK cinemas not long after the death of musical theatre pioneer Stephen Sondheim, who wrote the original lyrics for the musical.
This is everything you need to know about the new adaptation of West Side Story.
What’s West Side Story about?
West Side Story is a musical twist on Shakespeare’s classic play Romeo and Juliet.
Taking place in 1950s America, it tells the story of two youngsters, Maria and Tony, from separate gangs that fall in love.
The Sharks, a Puerto Rican gang, and the Jets, a gang made up of “American” boys, are strict rivals and the tension between the two has been growing and growing as they compete for territory on the streets.
Maria and Tony try to keep their romance a secret and so they begin to meet in secret - but those familiar with Romeo and Juliet know that tragedy lies in store for the couple.
The 2021 West Side Story film is a remake of the 1961 film starring Natalie Wood and Richard as the star crossed lovers Tony and Maria. In turn, the 1961 film was a screen adaptation of the original 1957 Broadway musical.
Who is in the cast?
The first cast member that was announced for the film was Ansel Elgort, who is taking on the lead role of Tony.
You’ll likely recognise Elgort from his roles in the likes of The Fault in Our Stars, Divergent, Baby Driver and The Goldfinch.
Taking on the role of Tony’s love interest Maria is newcomer Rachel Zegler.
With no prior screen credits, Zegler who has previously gone viral online for her singing.
In 2018, she posted a video on Twitter of her singing the bridge of Lady Gaga’s A Star is Born song Shallow. Since then, it has been viewed over 11 million times, has over 372k likes, over 85k retweets and over 12k quote tweets.
Zegler also had a large following on YouTube as well, where she posts videos of her singing covers of songs.
She had been scouted for the film after she posted a video of herself singing I Feel Pretty from West Side Story. Zegeler also previously played Maria in a school production of the musical.
The rest of the cast includes the likes of:
- Corey Stoll (Ant-Man, House of Cards) as Lieutenant Schrank
- Mike Faist (Panic, Wildling) as Riff
- Brian d’Arcy James (Hawkeye, 13 Reasons Why) as Officer Krupke
- David Alvarez (American Rust, The Stamp Collector) as Bernardo
- Jamila Velazquez (Empire, Twisted) as Meche
- Ariana DeBose (Schmigadoon!, The Prom) as Anita
- Rita Moreno (Maya and the Three, West Side Story (1961)) as Valentina
- Iris Menas (Madagascar: A Little Wild, Ridley Jones) as Anybodys
- Sebastian Serra (The Age of Maturity, Beauty is Skin Deep) as Braulio
When casting the role, director Steven Spielberg (Schindler’s List, Saving Private Ryan, Jurassic Park) specified that he wanted his stars to actually be of Latin descent - in the original 1961 version of the film, Natalie Wood and other cast members wore brown makeup to darken their skin.
The lyrics for West Side Story came from Stephen Sondheim, a powerhouse of a composer and lyricist. An iconic figure in the musical theatre world, some of Sondheim’s best known works includes Sweeney Todd: The Demon Barber of Fleet Street, Into the Woods, Anyone Can Whistle, and Merrily We Roll Along.
Over the course of his career, Sondheim’s accolades include eight Tony Awards, an Oscar, eight Grammy Awards, a Laurence Olivier Award and a Pulitzer prize.
In a statement, Spielberg paid tribute to Stephen Sondheim who died at age 91 on 26 November 2021.
Spielberg said: “Stephen Sondheim was a gigantic figure in American culture - one of our country’s greatest songwriters, a lyricist and composer of real genius, and a creator of some of the most glorious musical dramas ever written.
“Steve and I became friends only recently, but we became good friends and I was surprised to discover that he knew more about movies than almost anyone I’d ever met.”
When will it be released in the UK?
West Side Story will hit UK cinemas on Friday 10 December.
It had originally been slated for release in December of last year, however, like many other films, it was delayed due to the Covid-19 pandemic.
What are reviews saying?
On the whole, West Side Story has been received mostly positively by critics and reviewers.
Rotten Tomatoes, movie review site, has the film sitting at a 97% “tomatometer” based on 61 reviews from critics.
Peter Bradshaw, from the Guardian, gave West Side Story a glowing review, awarding it five out of five stars.
Bradshaw describes the film as “an ecstatic act of ancestor-worship: a vividly dreamed, cunningly modified and visually staggering revival”.
“No one but Spielberg could have brought it off,” Bradshaw adds.
Empire film reviewer Helen O’Hara also gave West Side Story a five out of five star review, stating that, from the opening shot, “there’s barely a frame that isn’t beautiful or a beat that feels off”.
Kevin Maher, from The Times, gave the film a slightly lesser rating, but still an impressive four out of five stars.
Maher says: “Typical Spielberg. Only he could manage to remake arguably the greatest musical of all without falling flat on his face.”
Patrick Cremona, from Radio Times, also opted for four out of five stars, saying that “the new version of the classic musical falls just short of the first film - but it’s still a stunningly entertaining spectacle”.
Clarisse Loughrey, from the Independent, gave West Side Story a middling review with three out of five stars.
Loughrey states that Elgort’s performance “falls completely flat when pitched against a cast of energetic, highly expressive theatre professionals” and that while the film is visually stunning, “the technical triumphs only complicate what feels like an unanswerable question: how can a film look this good, feel so moving, and still come up lacking?”.
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