One of America’s all-time great filmmakers is taking on one of her all-time great musicals with the filmmaking chemistry that is Steven Spielberg’s West Side Story remake. Calling West Side Story an American musical might be considered a stretch, since the story is a refurbished spin on Romeo and Juliet but, come on, what’s more American than taking someone else’s story and calling it our own?
And what a story this one is. Leonard Bernstein and Stephen Sondheim really pulled out all the stops for their tale of the Jets and the Sharks squaring off on the Upper West Side, and the love story that defied their rival tensions. The original 1961 film adaptation of the Broadway show took home ten Oscars, including Best Picture, and is rightfully considered a classic, even though it largely overlooked casting actual Puerto Rican actors for the Sharks. That’s a misstep that’s been corrected for Spielberg’s remake, which also cast newcomer Rachel Zegler as Maria opposite Ansel Elgort’s Tony. Rita Moreno, who won Best Supporting Actor for her work in the original, is back as Valentina and Maddie Ziegler is here as Velma.
Hollywood’s banking big on musicals these days, between this and Jon Chu’s upcoming adaptation of Lin Manuel Miranda’s In the Heights. That makes sense, since musical film history is hallowed ground for American filmmakers. Play your cards right, and you might end up with a Chicago, a Moulin Rouge or even a Beauty and the Beast. Play them wrong and you get Cats. Good luck, everyone.