West Side Story
West Side Story is a 2021 American musical romantic drama film directed and co-produced by Steven Spielberg from a screenplay by Tony Kushner. It is the second feature-length adaptation of the 1957 stage musical of the same name.
It stars Ansel Elgort and Rachel Zegler in her film debut with Ariana DeBose, David Alvarez, Mike Faist, and Rita Moreno in supporting roles. Moreno, who starred in the 1961 film adaptation, also served as an executive producer alongside Kushner
The film features music composed by Leonard Bernstein with lyrics by Stephen Sondheim.
In March 2014, Steven Spielberg first seriously expressed interest in directing an adaptation of West Side Story, prompting 20th Century Fox to acquire the rights to the project. Tony Kushner, who previously worked with Spielberg on Munich (2005) and Lincoln (2012), revealed in a July 2017 interview that he was writing the screenplay for the film, stating he would be leaving the musical numbers intact, and that the story would be closer to the original stage musical than to the 1961 film. In a 2020 interview, Spielberg told Vanity Fair: "West Side Story was actually the first piece of popular music our family ever allowed into the home. I ... fell completely in love with it as a kid." Spielberg would ultimately dedicate the film to his father, Arnold, who died during production at age 103.
The following year, he further explained why he felt the time had come for a new film adaptation of the musical, saying: "Divisions between un-likeminded people is as old as time itself. ... And the divisions between the Sharks and the Jets in 1957, which inspired the musical, were profound. But not as divided as we find ourselves today. It turned out in the middle of the development of the script, things widened, which I think in a sense, sadly, made the story of those racial divides – not just territorial divides – more relevant to today's audience than perhaps it even was in 1957."
In January 2018, it was announced that Spielberg would most likely direct the film following completion of filming for a fifth installment of the Indiana Jones franchise. This was followed a few days later with an open casting call issued for the characters Maria, Tony, Anita and Bernardo. Additional open casting calls were hosted in New York City in April, and in Orlando, Florida in May. In July, the fifth Indiana Jones film was pushed back, allowing Spielberg to begin pre-production on West Side Story.
Justin Peck was hired to choreograph the film in September 2018, with Ansel Elgort cast in the film as Tony. In November, Eiza González emerged as a contender for the role of Anita. Rita Moreno, who played Anita in the 1961 film, plays Valentina and also serves as an executive producer for the film. In January 2019, newcomer Rachel Zegler was picked from over 30,000 applicants to play Maria, with Ariana DeBose, David Alvarez, and Josh Andrés Rivera also cast as Anita, Bernardo, and Chino, respectively. In March 2019, Corey Stoll and Brian d'Arcy James joined the cast. A month later, the rest of the ensemble comprising the Jets and Sharks factions was announced.
Filming took place in Harlem and other Manhattan locations and in Flatlands, Brooklyn in New York City in July 2019. There were ten days of shooting in Paterson, New Jersey, where an outdoor set was built, in August 2019. Filming also took place in Newark and other parts of Essex County, New Jersey. It wrapped on 27th September 2019 for a total of 79 days of shooting. All of the sets were constructed at a warehouse at Steiner Studios.
Spielberg and Sondheim initially wanted to cut 'I Feel Pretty' from the film. Its presence in the original musical, right after the rumble, was largely done against the wishes of Sondheim: he and Bernstein had been instructed by the producers to add an upbeat song after intermission to start Act 2, and so the song was written in protest. Sondheim would later remark that he was embarrassed by its lyrical content, to the point that he allowed it to be cut from the 2020 Broadway revival directed by Ivo van Hove. Spielberg, likewise, questioned whether the upbeat song would still work without an intermission between it and the rumble. It was ultimately due to the intervention of Tony Kushner that the song remained, as Spielberg later explained, "Tony [Kushner] explained to me, and then I explained to Stephen...that this is the first time in our story that the entire audience is ahead of Maria's story. And the audience will feel very protective of her because we know she’s about to find out."
West Side Story was initially scheduled to be distributed in the United States in December 2020 by Walt Disney Studios Motion Pictures through the 20th Century Studios label. In September, due to the COVID-19 pandemic, Disney delayed the release date to 10th December 2021, which coincided with the 60th anniversary of the release of the 1961 film.
On the review aggregator website Rotten Tomatoes, 91% of critics' reviews are positive. The website's consensus reads, "Steven Spielberg's West Side Story presents a new look at the classic musical that lives up to its beloved forebear – and in some respects might even surpass it." Metacritic, which uses a weighted average, assigned the film a score of 85 out of 100 based, indicating "universal acclaim". Audiences polled by CinemaScore gave the film an average grade of "A" on an A+ to F scale, while those polled by PostTrak gave it an 88% overall positive score.
Chris Evangelista of Film wrote, "Spielberg's West Side Story is a knock-out. A dynamite blend of old-school musical showmanship and modern sensibilities. It's one of the best movies of the year, and one of the best movies of the acclaimed filmmaker's career. Yes, really."
Peter Bradshaw of The Guardian wrote: "Spielberg quite rightly doesn't try hiding any of those stage origins. His mastery of technique is thrilling; I gave my heart to this poignant American fairytale of doomed love." Helen O'Hara of Empire gave the film five stars and wrote, "Heartfelt and heart-breaking, this feels like Spielberg has made an adaptation faithful to its roots but also, always, alive to the modern world."
Jason Bailey of The Playlist wrote, "West Side Story moves like a freight train, its 156 minutes passing in barely a breath, and that breakneck pace, combined with the expressionist aesthetic and candy-colored imagery, reminds us that blockbusters don't have to be greyscaled dreck." Richard Lawson of Vanity Fair wrote that "Spielberg and Kushner have done justice to what Bernstein, Robbins, and the quite recently late Stephen Sondheim made all those years ago – not subverting its enduring value, but rather, with fire and grace, doing so much to earn it." Owen Gleiberman of Variety wrote that the film "has a brash effervescence. You can feel the joy he got out of making it, and the kick is infectious."
It was named one of the top ten films of 2021 by the National Board of Review and the American Film Institute. Metacritic reported that the film appeared on 66 film critics' top ten lists for 2021 in being among the top ten films with the most appearances, as it ranked first on 10 lists and second on 7 lists
West Side Story was nominated for several awards and won accolades from various organizations, critics' groups and circles, particularly in recognition of the cast's performances, Spielberg's direction, Kushner's screenplay, and the film's production merits.
At the 94th Academy Awards, the film received seven nominations, including Best Picture. It became the second adaptation of the same source material for a previous Best Picture winner to be nominated for the same award after 1962's Mutiny on the Bounty. With his Best Picture nomination, Spielberg became the most nominated individual in the category with eleven films. Spielberg's Best Director nomination also made him the first filmmaker to be nominated in that category in six consecutive decades. Paul Tazewell became the first African American male costume designer to be nominated for Best Costume Design for his work on the film.
At the 79th Golden Globe Awards, West Side Story received four nominations and three wins, including Best Motion Picture – Musical or Comedy. Zegler made history as the first actress of Colombian descent/Latina to win Best Actress – Motion Picture Comedy or Musical for her performance as Maria as well as becoming the youngest winner in that category at 20 years old. It also tied with Belfast for a leading eleven nominations at the 27th Critics' Choice Awards, including Best Picture, and won two awards, including Best Editing.
In addition, it received five nominations at the 75th British Academy Film Awards, including Best Actor in a Supporting Role for Faist, and won two awards, including Best Casting.
Ansel Elgort as Tony
Rachel Zegler as Maria
Ariana DeBose as Anita
David Alvarez as Bernardo
Mike Faist as Riff
Rita Moreno as Valentina
Brian d'Arcy James as Officer Krupke
Corey Stoll as Lieutenant Schrank
Josh Andrés Rivera as Chino
iris menas[note 1] as Anybodys
Ana Isabelle as Rosalía
Andréa Burns as Fausta
Jamila Velazquez as Meche
Yassmin Alers as Lluvia
Jamie Harris as Rory
Curtiss Cook as Abe
Paloma Garcia-Lee as Graziella
Patrick Higgins as Baby John
Ben Cook as Mouthpeice
Three of the Jets from the 1961 film of West Side Story (Harvey Evans, who portrayed Mouthpiece, Bert Michaels, who played Snowboy, and David Bean, who played Tiger) appear as extras. Andréa Burns, who played Maria in the 1992–1993 European Tour of the musical, appears as Fausta.
Paul Tazewell, known for his work on Hamilton and The Wiz Live!, served as costume designer for the film.
To distinguish the two gangs from one another visually, he had the Jets dressed in cool-toned colors to reflect "the steel, the concrete, the streets of New York City as it was in the 1950s" and the Sharks in warm-toned colors to represent "where they’ve come from of Puerto Rico, of the island, having a tropical feel, many of the dresses of the Sharks, I reserved all of the floral pattern for that group for the Puerto Rican community."
Spielberg initially approached his frequent collaborator John Williams to serve as the film's music director. Williams instead suggested composer David Newman and conductor Gustavo Dudamel.
Newman arranged and adapted Bernstein's original score for the film, incorporating alterations originally made to Bernstein's Broadway score by Johnny Green for the 1961 film (for example, interpolation of the "Cool" fugue motif into the "Prologue", the extended trumpet solo in "Mambo").
Dudamel conducted the New York Philharmonic during the film's recording sessions in 2019, with additional recording by the Los Angeles Philharmonic done during the COVID-19 pandemic the following year. Jeanine Tesori and Matt Sullivan served as vocal coach and music supervisor, respectively, while Williams served as music consultant.
All of the songs were pre-recorded and used as playback on set, with the exceptions of 'One Hand, One Heart', 'Somewhere' and 'A Boy like That/I Have a Love', which did not use the playback and were instead sung live on set. Portions of 'Maria' were also sung live on set without the playback, as per Elgort's request.
Choreographer Justin Peck, cinematographer Janusz Kamiński, and Spielberg worked closely on how the film's choreography would work in concert with the camera. Spielberg was constantly present during the film's dance rehearsals and would use the camera on his hand-held iPhone to figure out how to frame the shots.
Peck noted that dance in movie-musicals had grown into something of a joke in the past several decades, with the 1961 film receiving some light mockery for depicting violent gang warfare with ballet movements. Mindful of the new film's more realistic approach to material, he chose to treat the dance as symbolic of the unity between the gangs: "We have to remember that it is still a musical and that there’s a unique kind of expression that exists in it. This isn’t full blown realism, literal realism." Peck cites "Cool" as the dance sequence most indicative of this approach, combining virtuoso ballet movements with the dangerous violence of the scene in the fight over the gun.
The film does not attempt to recreate the Jerome Robbins choreography used in most productions of the stage show and in the 1961 film. However, Peck and the creative team were mindful of Robbins' integral role in the movement language of the show, and occasionally reused Robbins movements for nostalgia. Spielberg cites the Rumble as an example: the scene initially reuses some of the Robbins choreography but as it grows more intense more of Peck's original choreography is used. Peck also highlighted the skirt flaring in 'America' and Tony and Maria's dance at the gym as direct "quotes" of the Robbins choreography.'America', which in the 1961 film takes place on a rooftop at night, was restaged to take place on the streets of New York during the day. The shoot took 10 days at locations across Harlem, Queens, and Paterson. Ariana DeBose's dance shoes melted and had to be replaced multiple times throughout the shoot, due to a combination of hot weather and the intensity of the choreography.
Although a few dance doubles are credited in the film as they were required to be on standby for the underage actors, all of the film's actors performed their own dancing with no doubles. This included Ansel Elgort, who is a former student of the School of American Ballet.