Academy Award winning director, Steven Spielberg, brings new life to the remake of the award-winning musical, West Side Story. The classic tale of forbidden love and rivalry gangs in New York City is world renowned not only as a theatrical production but as a film.
I admit, when I first heard West Side Story was going to be remade, I was not pleased — even though I knew Spielberg was behind it and most of the time, he gets it right.
The 1961 version starring Natalie Wood and Rita Moreno is perhaps one of the best movie-musicals ever and frankly, I hate when the industry feels the need to remake a classic. How do you get better when you have the best, right?
However, West Side Story pleasantly surprises and shall put cynics to shame.
Spielberg delivers a respectful, energetic, richer and slightly tougher version that honors and in some ways even surpasses the Academy Award winning original adaptation.
Visually, the film knocks it out of the park. Sweeping camera techniques dance along a gritty expressionist production make the vivid and colorfully choreographed musical numbers even more dynamic. Instead of an intimate theatre-like experience the original portrayed, Spielberg’s West Side Story has a massive scope where the city is brought to life. When I tell you he went big, I mean it — he went BIG.
And that’s not all.
Spielberg’s sensitive and socially-aware additions enhance the text bringing this timeless tale more into our modern age. For example, the creative decision to include more Spanish dialogue (and didn’t use subtitles) injected more realism, inclusivity and gave Maria, Anita, and all of the Sharks more of an authentic voice.
The ensemble, full of a lot of fresh young faces, is beyond brilliant. I don’t have a single qualm with the casting.
Rachel Zegler is beyond impressive in her film debut as Maria, with a voice of an angel. I’m not even kidding. Google her singing “Shallow” from 2018 and your jaw will drop.
Another incredible performance is Broadway star, Ariana DeBose who gives a fiery, charismatic, and passionate performance as Anita. DeBose and Zegler command the screen and I truly cannot wait to watch these women’s careers skyrocket after this.
However, my personal favorite performance was Rita Moreno as Valentina, the female version of Doc. Her heartfelt performance left me goosebumps, especially while performing ‘Somewhere”.
Nothing will ever compare to the original. I feel this about most filmmaking. However, sometimes — and rarely sometimes — a miracle happens when an original can be brought to life with a new and different kind of energy.
The world is wide enough for two amazing West Side Story adaptations. And I’m happy
Final Thoughts: Fresh and gorgeously executed, Spielberg’s retelling of West Side Story makes the world full of light