“If it ain’t broke, don’t fix it” has been a rallying cry lately amidst a torrent of poorly-received remakes of classic films. From Carrie to Annie and every Disney animation in-between, for some reason filmmakers love to churn out glossier re-makes of well-loved originals instead of penning original scripts. Will Steven Spielberg however, be the one to somehow improve Robert Wise and Jerome Robbins’ beloved 1961 adaptation of the broadway musical West Side Story?
The 1961 original, which won 10 of its 11 Oscar nominations, follows the same story as the stage musical, which is a loose adaptation of Shakespeare’s Romeo and Juliet. It follows two rival gangs in the West Side’s Lincoln Square neighborhood in Manhattan: the white American Jets and the Puerto Rican Sharks. Tension, tragedy and a lot of aggressive finger-clicking ensue when Tony, the leader of the Jets, falls in love with Maria, whose brother Bernardo is leader of the Sharks.
The remake will star newcomer Rachel Zegler as Maria and Ansel Elgort as Tony. Elgort suffered a blow with the failure of 2018’s Billionaire Boys Club, but he is set to star in this autumn’s The Goldfinch, bringing some big-name star power to the line-up. Joining them are Ariana DeBose (Anita), David Alvarez (Bernardo), Mike Faist (Riff), Josh Andrés Rivera (Chino), Corey Stoll (Lieutenant Schrank) and Brian d’Arcy James (Sergeant Krupke).
Choreographer Justin Peck will have his work cut out to create moves to rival Jerome Robbins’ from the 1961 film, which were utterly iconic and trailblazing with their contemporaneity and storytelling abilities. Thankfully, though, the remake will refrain from altering the rousing, beautiful score, retaining Leonard Bernstein’s rhythmic complexity and Sondheim’s humorous lyricism with songs such as “Something’s Coming,” “America,” “Tonight” and “I Feel Pretty.” Tony Kushner has penned the script, based on the original stage book, with Janusz Kaminski on set as cinematographer.
This remake does, however, seem poised to rectify some issues prevalent in the original fim. Firstly, Spielberg’s remake boasts a diverse cast with the Puerto Rican characters actually being played by Latinx actors, which wasn’t the case in 1961. Furthermore, the actors casts will actually sing themselves, whereas in 1961 Natalie Wood and Richard Beymer as Maria and Tony mimed while ghost singers were hired to actually hit the notes.
Audiences will have to wait before they can decide whether or not the adaptation matches up, as the film won’t be released until December 2020.
Words by Steph Green