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A reimagined ‘West Side Story’ is just around the corner

| Thursday, October 28, 2021

Claire Kirner | The Observer

A novel version of “West Side Story” hits theaters this December. The musical film a cinema classic will now star Ansel Elgort and recently acclaimed Hollywood star Rachel Zegler as the leads. The film has been complete for a long time as it was supposed to debut last year. A remake of the 1961 musical, this adaptation has much to live up to, seeing that the original won Best Picture and nine additional Oscars. It was also the top-grossing film in 1961, amassing $43,656,822. Natalie Wood and Richard Beymer were the protagonists then.

Both the current and the previous films are adaptations of the theatrical musical of the same name, with text by Arthur Laurents, music by Leonard Bernstein and lyrics by Stephen Sondheim. The show opened in 1957 on Broadway and won two Tony Awards.

Steven Spielberg, winner of three Oscars, directs the movie. He is also one of the producers. The filmmaker praises the professionals involved and celebrates the project as one of the great moments of his career. Spielberg was 10 years old when “West Side Story” first opened on Broadway; working with this story has been a long-held dream of his. Not wishing to overlook the masterpiece that the 1961 movie was, Spielberg hoped to create a movie derived from the stage production. It is almost as if both films are different interpretations of the same source material.

Rita Moreno, one of only three artists to be honored with Oscar, Emmy, Grammy, Tony and Peabody awards, also serves as one of the film’s executive producers. She even won her Oscar for best supporting actress in the first version of “West Side Story.” Back then, she played Anita, the strong-spirited and charismatic immigrant who places great hopes in “America.” Now, the movie features here as the character Valentina, replacing the role of Doc, a Father Lawrence-type mentor to the young couple.

The choreographer is Justin Peck, winner of the Tony Awards for the musical “Carousel.” Certainly one of the highlights in the original movie were the dances namely the Party Scene and the complex techniques employed in the song “America.” Undoubtedly the remake will stun audiences, as the brief shots displayed in the trailer are enough to provide wonder and excitement.

Gustavo Dadamel, director of the Los Angeles Philharmonic Orchestra, developed the elaborate soundtrack. It must have been an honor to be in such close contact with the music of Bernstein, one of the greatest composers of the 20th century.

With the anticipated remake approaching, it is proper to look back at the story which enchanted audiences worldwide. The premise is simple, but intriguing: On the west side of New York City, the Jets and Sharks are Polish and Puerto Rican gangs, respectively, who loathe each other and fight to dominate the territory in their neighborhood. The conflict intensifies when two rival gang members fall in love, setting the scene for tragedy. The plot is inspired by William Shakespeare’s “Romeo and Juliet,” and the similarity between both works are glaring; to those who have read Shakespeare, it is easy to point out characters and scenes that mirror those in the 16th-century tale. However, “West Side Story” adds a layer of depth to the classic romance. Highlighting the struggles of immigrants, racial tension and discrimination, “West Side Story” surpasses mere romance and engages themes that will continue to be relevant for a considerable time. It is therefore fitting that Spielberg made sure to cast actors of genuine Hispanic descent to play the Puerto Ricans, since the original contained a predominantly white cast.

“West Side Story” (2021) released a teaser in April during the 93rd Academy Awards. The official trailer aired on Good Morning America on Sept. 15, showcasing breathtaking shots and a glimpse of the song “Tonight.” Each frame seems to be meticulously constructed to reflect the beauty and profundity of the tale. In all appearances, this upcoming film will meet and perhaps even surpass expectations.

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About Marcelle Couto

Marcelle Couto is a freshman coursing the joint Philosophy/Theology major as well as Music. She is from São Paulo, Brazil, and was born in Rochester MN. Marcelle currently resides in Cavanaugh Hall.

Contact Marcelle