Get ready for the 21st century edition of the Jets vs. the Sharks. Steven Spielberg is officially remaking West Side Story, the classic romantic musical about rival gangs in New York City. The script will be written by Tony award winner (and Lincoln screenwriter) Tony Kushner; the cast, however, is still to be determined.
A casting call was recently released, seeking actors to fill in the key principal roles of Tony, Maria, Anita and Bernardo. The announcement explicitly ask for Latinx actors to audition for the latter three, a welcome sign that Spielberg won’t whitewash this story. In the original 1961 film, those three parts were played by Natalie Wood, Rita Moreno (who is Puerto Rican), and George Chakiris. Tony, as always, will be played by a white actor; in the original, Richard Beymer played the role. Actors must be between the ages of 15 and 25, and must be able to sing, naturally. Dance experience is “a plus” for this famously kinetic production, which boasted original choreography from Jerome Robbins (who also co-directed the first film version).
Rumors about Spielberg and Kushner teaming up for a West Side Story reboot have been floating about for the last three years. Deadline first reported the news back in 2014, while Spielberg himself confirmed it much later, in a 2016 interview with The Hollywood Reporter—adding that he’s dreamt of adapting this material “for decades,” and spent 15 years trying to acquire the rights. Now, with a little help from 20th Century Fox, he’s well on his way toward catching that finger-snapping white whale.
West Side Story has loomed large in the pop cultural landscape for the last five decades. A splashy Broadway revival in 2009 drew a mix of praise and confusion when some of its lyrics were translated into Spanish by Lin-Manuel Miranda (working with original lyricist Stephen Sondheim), in order to acknowledge half of the characters’s Puerto Rican roots. Eventually, though, some of those lyrics were converted back to English, after producers realized audience members who didn’t speak Spanish weren’t able to connect with the altered words. While this might have been a difficult trick to pull off on the stage, perhaps Spielberg will be able to try again on the big screen, thanks to the aid of subtitles. According to BroadwayWorld, the casting call explicitly ask for actors who can speak Spanish—a positive sign for those hoping that the story will seem a little more authentic this time around.
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JESSICA CHASTAIN, actor, producer.
With her cherry hair and Creamsicle complexion, Jessica Chastain possesses a classical beauty suitable for Victorian high collars (Crimson Peak), to-the-manor-born hauteur (Miss Julie), heroic archery (The Huntsman: Winter’s War), and parts requiring her to keep her dimpled chin cocked. Chastain has also dived into the netherworlds of counter-intelligence (Zero Dark Thirty) and high-roller underground gambling (Molly’s Game, as real-life “poker princess” Molly Bloom) without losing translucence. On the horizon is perhaps Chastain’s greatest challenge: playing the sainted country-music singer Tammy Wynette in George and Tammy.Photo: Photograph by Kathryn MacLeod.Annie Leibovitz and team observe Jessicas Diehl and Chastain.Photo: Photograph by Kathryn MacLeod.
ROBERT DE NIRO, actor, producer, director.
It is impossible to determine which is more intimidating: Robert De Niro’s scowl, which in his gangster roles signals a beatdown about to ensue (see GoodFellas), or his jack-o’-lantern smile, which indicates he’s going to relish the beatdown about to ensue (see his Al Capone in The Untouchables). Violence isn’t the only language his characters speak, but it is the one in which they are most articulate, especially in the collaborations with Martin Scorsese, which began with Mean Streets and continue today with The Irishman (Netflix), co-starring, among others, Al Pacino (as Jimmy Hoffa!), Joe Pesci, Harvey Keitel, and Bobby Cannavale—ya gotta problem with that?Photo: Photograph by Kathryn MacLeod.V.F. features editor Jane Sarkin and Annie Leibovitz review wardrobe options with Jessica Diehl.Photo: Photograph by Kathryn MacLeod.Photo: Photograph by Kathryn MacLeod.Photo: Photograph by Kathryn MacLeod.Photo: Photograph by Annie Leibovitz.PreviousNext
Yohana DestaYohana Desta is a Hollywood writer for VanityFair.com.