Rachel Zegler, Maria
There's definitely a resemblance between Rachel Zegler and Natalie Wood
A high-school student from New Jersey, this 17-year-old beat more than 30,000 hopefuls to be cast as the female lead in West Side Story. When she played Maria in the original 1961 film, Natalie Wood had 19 years of acting experience under her belt – Zegler’s take on the role will be her big-screen debut. But youthful unaffectedness is exactly what an actor needs to play Maria – as well as talent, which Zegler has to spare.
Videos of her singing have wowed Twitter followers, and her voice has been dubbed ‘insane’ by the likes of Zach Braff. Also unlike Wood, Zegler is Hispanic. Announcing that she’d landed the role on Instagram, the Colombian-American teenager wrote that she was ‘humbled’ to be involved in a project ‘that means so much to the Hispanic community’.
Ansel Elgort, Tony
Can Ansel Elgort honour the charm of Richard Beymer?
The first cast member to be announced, Baby Driver star Ansel Elgort will be the Tony to Zegler’s Maria. He has a talent for melancholy as the cancer-stricken teenager in The Fault in Our Stars, and YouTube videos of him singing suggest he could have a good rendition of Maria in him. But does he have the suavity of Richard Beymer, who broke hearts with his energetic take on Tony in the 1960s? It remains to be seen.
Rita Moreno, Valentina
Rita Moreno won an Oscar when she played Anita in 1961; will she win another playing Valentina?
The first performer to win an Oscar, a Tony, an Emmy and a Grammy, Rita Moreno is joining Spielberg’s team as both an executive producer and a supporting cast member. Moreno is in fact a West Side Story veteran: she played the role of Anita in the 1961 film, winning an Oscar for best supporting actress. Spielberg described this performance as ‘one of the greatest musical performances ever filmed, and a personal favorite of mine’, after stating that he’d wanted Moreno involved from the get-go.
He and Kushner even created a new role for her: Valentina is a reimagining of the original character Doc, who runs the shop where Tony works. Moreno described herself as ‘tingling’ with anticipation to be involved with the project, which she’ll balance with her involvement in a film adaptation of Lin-Manuel Miranda’s debut musical In the Heights.
Ariana DeBose, Anita
Ariana DeBose will be working alongside the woman who first played her role, Rita Moreno
Moreno’s involvement in the project means DeBose is in the unenviable position of having her performance watched over by the woman who originated (and won awards for) the part. Still, DeBose seems more excited than nervous: she’s tweeted Moreno, saying that she’s ‘honored and excited to work and learn from someone I have admired for so long’. An original member of the Hamilton ensemble, DeBose was last year nominated for a Tony Award for her leading role in Summer: The Donna Summer Musical. West Side Story will be the first film she’s starred in.
David Alvarez, Bernardo
Tony Award-winner David Alvarez steps into the shoes of George Chakiris, the original Bernardo
Another Broadway veteran (and literal veteran: he’s spent three years in the US army), David Alvarez was one of three boys who first played the titular role of Billy Elliot the Musical on Broadway. The three boys went on to jointly win the Tony Award for best actor in a musical. Like George Chakiris, who played Maria’s brother in the 1961 film, Alvarez is an accomplished dancer: as a child he danced at the Metropolitan Opera House in New York. Unlike Chakiris, Alvarez is Hispanic – the son of Cuban immigrants; it seems Spielberg has made it his priority to cast actors whose backgrounds reflect their characters. West Side Story will be the actor's first feature-length film.
Josh Andrés Rivera, Chino
DeBose doesn't seem as threatening as De Vega, but perhaps we'll think differently when he's covered in blood
Another newcomer, Rivera will make his film debut as Maria’s spurned lover, Chino. Like DeBose, Rivera cut his teeth in Hamilton, having recently completed a stint in the ensemble of the show’s first US tour. Hopefully his broad build will give him the tense gravitas that Jose De Vega oozed when he originated the role of Chino in the 1961 production.
Though many of the names aren’t instantly recognisable, it’s reassuring that Spielberg has looked to Broadway, rather than the front pages of glossy magazines, for his cast. It suggests a focus on talent rather than names, which bodes well for a film that might well become a contemporary classic.
West Side Story has been delayed because of Covid. The new UK release date is Friday 10 December 2021.
|What||Who’s who in Steven Spielberg’s West Side Story remake?|
10 Dec 21 – 10 Dec 22, TIMES VARY
|Price||£ determined by cinemas|
|Website||Click here for more information|