Steven Spielberg is back again, but this time with West Side Story , a romantic musical which is inspired by Arthur Laurents' Broadway musical. Interestingly, the Broadway musical itself was inspired by William Shakespeare's Romeo and Juliet. It is set in the upper West Side of New York City in a diversely populated blue-collar neighborhood in the 1950s.
The film follows the rivalry between the Jets and the Sharks, two street gangs of different ethnic backgrounds, and how two teenagers Tony and Maria fall in love amidst the rivalry.
3 reasons to look out for West Side Story
1) The cast remain true to the characters
Spielberg was adamant about remaining true to the characters while casting actors for the roles. He ensured that only Hispanic performers play Hispanic characters in the film. Rita Moreno has applauded Spielberg's endeavor of righting the wrongs of the original film, especially in terms of casting. Spielberg is very proud of the cast he assembled and reportedly said in an interview:
“I’m so happy that we’ve assembled a cast that reflects the astonishing depth of talent in America’s multifaceted Hispanic community. 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.”
2) 'West Side Story' does not claim to be a remake of the original
Though the 2021 West Side Story is still set in the late 1950s, Spielberg is looking to reflect the modern era with this timeless love story. Spielberg explained in an interview,
“I really wanted to tell that Puerto Rican, Nuyorican experience of basically the migration to this country and the struggle to make a living, and to have children, and to battle against the obstacles of xenophobia and racial prejudice.”
The film does not recreate the original, frame for frame. The 1961 film exists as an incredible and timeless piece of pop culture that remains influential even today. The 2021 version of West Side Story attempts to improve on certain things to keep up with modern times. The characters, and even the plotline, are heavily layered and try to do justice to the socio-cultural context of the story.
3) Spielberg's inspiration
What made Spielberg shift from his usual sci-fi and decide to remake a romantic musical? In an interview, he had declared that the musical always held a special place in his heart.
“West Side Story was actually the first piece of popular music our family ever allowed into the home. I absconded with it — this was the cast album from the 1957 Broadway musical — and just fell completely in love with it as a kid. ‘West Side Story’ has been that one haunting temptation that I have finally given in to.”
For a long time Spielberg had his heart set on remaking the musical. Finally, in 2014, 20th Century Fox opened the rights to Robert Wise’s West Side Story to Spielberg. He managed to secure the rights to the musical 15 years after pursuing them. By 2016, he was already working with screenwriter Tony Kushner on a script.
Don't miss the new reboot of West Side Story, coming to theaters on December 10, 2021.