On the occasion of the theatrical release of Steven Spielberg’s new film, which brings the famous Broadway musical back to life, a look back at the film’s performers and those who make up Robert Wise’s previous adaptation released in 1961.
Natalie Wood / Rachel Zegler (Maria)
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In the first film adaptation of the musical created by Arthur Laurents, Stephen Sondheim and Leonard Bernstein, directed by Robert Wise in 1961, Natalie Wood, who was then an international star, is chosen to play the role of Maria.
After having given the answer in particular to James Dean in The Fury of Living or to John Wayne in The Prisoner of the Desert, West Side Story will remain one of the greatest successes of his career.
In the adaptation directed by Steven Spielberg, it is a young American-Colombian actress and singer who takes on the role of the heroine. Having worked at theaters where she has played in musicals since adolescence, Rachel Zegler lands the role of Maria thanks to a wild cast. West Side Story is her first film role, and the start of a promising career since she will soon be playing on Shazam! Fury of the Gods, and in the title role of Disney’s live-action Snow White.
Richard Beymer / Ansel Elgort (Tony)
In the 1961 film, Richard Beymer takes on the role of Tony, a member of the Jets who falls in love with Maria, the sister of one of the members of the Sharks, a rival gang made up of Puerto Rican immigrants. Having subsequently mainly made a career in television, Beymer held recurring roles in the series Arabesque and Twin Peaks, where he played the crooked businessman Benjamin Horne.
In Spielberg’s film, it’s up to Ansel Elgort to take on the role of Tony. Revealed in 2014 in the adaptation of the children’s novel Nos Etoiles contraires (2014), in the Divergent saga and in the main role of the film Baby Driver by Edgar Wright in 2017, the actor will soon be in the cast of the miniseries Tokyo Vice, adapted from the book Phenomenon by Jake Adelstein.
Rita Moreno / Ariana DeBose (Anita)
In Robert Wise’s film, Puerto Rican actress Rita Moreno plays the role of Anita, the companion of Maria’s brother, for which she was awarded the Oscar for Best Supporting Actress in 1962. She then became a recurring character in the prison Oz series from 1997 in the role of Sister Pete, a nun working with prisoners.
Executive producer on Spielberg’s film, she is also offered a new role by the director: that of Valentina, Doc’s widow, instead of the character played by Ned Glass in the 1961 version.
The role of Anita is in turn taken by the dancer and actress Ariana DeBose, revealed in the musical Hamilton on Disney + and the film The Prom by Ryan Murphy in 2019.
George Chakiris / David Alvarez (Bernardo)
In Robert Wise’s film, actor George Chakiris won the Oscar for Best Supporting Actor for his portrayal of Bernardo, the leader of the Sharks gang.
For the sake of diversity and representation towards the Puerto Rican community, Spielberg insisted that the Sharks be embodied by actors of Latin American origin in his adaptation. “On stage, the actors weren’t generally Hispanic, and in the 1961 film, (…) a lot of those who played Puerto Ricans are white. I wanted to do an authentic cast, to make sure that the actors playing the Sharks boys and girls would be 100% Latino. ”
It is therefore to the Canadian actor and dancer David Alvarez that returned the role of Bernardo, revealed in a production of the musical Billy Eliott on Broadway in 2008. This year, he also appears in the cast of the Showtime American series. Rust.
Russ Tamblyn / Mike Faist (Riff)
After Richard Beymer, it is another recurring actor of Twin Peaks who plays one of the members of the Jets: Russ Tamblyn, the iconic Dr Jacoby, plays here the role of Riff, leader of the Polish American gang. , Irish and Italian opposed to the Sharks.
In the 2021 film, Mike Faist, an American actor and singer also from the Broadway scene, takes over the role of Riff. Nominated for the Tony Awards for his performance in the musical Dear Evan Hansen in 2017, he then appears in the horror series Panic in 2021 and in the cinema in Wilding alongside Liv Tyler.
Simon Oakland / Corey Stoll (Lieutenant Schrank)
Having marked American television with the character of General Thomas Moore in the series Les Têtes brûlées, Simon Oakland, who also played the role of Steve McQueen in the feature film La Cannonière du Yang-Tsé, Simon oakland Lends his features to Police Lieutenant Schrank, who is struggling to restore order in the New York neighborhoods where the two rival gangs clash. In this new adaptation, he is played by actor Corey Stoll, noticed in 2013 in season 1 of House of Cards, then in many series such as The Strain, The Deuce and Billions. In the cinema, he also embodies the nemesis of Ant-Man in the first installment of the Marvel saga.
Ned Glass / Rita Moreno (Doc / Valentina)
To adapt West Side Story today, Steven Spielberg and his screenwriter, Tony Kushner, had the idea to completely rethink the character of Doc, the pharmacist and confidant of Tony played by Ned glass in 1961.
Wanting from the start to give a role to Rita moreno, the actress who played Anita in the Robert Wise film (and one of the only cast members to have won multiple awards), they then imagined that Doc would be replaced by his widow, Valentina, a Puerto Rican who takes Tony under his wing on his release from prison and having inherited his pharmacy.
“Rita was very involved in the production, not only as an actress playing Valentina (…) but also as an executive producer”, confides the director. “She has a very unique perspective and her presence bridges the generations; she represents a living connection between the original film and ours.”