On Thursday, rumors that Steven Spielberg would finally be taking on one of his dream projects seemed to be confirmed: A casting call for a remake of West Side Story was revealed, in search of actors to fill the four main roles, Tony, Maria, Anita, and Bernardo. Spielberg will direct, while Tony Kushner will adapt the screenplay.
Little is known about the project as of right now, though a lot can be gleaned just from looking at the casting call. The ethnicity of each of the character is emphasized, which suggests that the creative team is actively seeking out Latino and Latina actors to play the Latino and Latina characters. (This is often not how West Side Story turns out: Rita Moreno was the only Latino performer in the main cast of the 1961 version, and even she was subject to brownface.) The call also states that the actors “should be between 15-25 years old”—in the original film, George Chakiris (Bernardo), Moreno (Anita), and Russ Tamblyn (who played Jets leader Riff) were all in their late 20s. And weirdly for a show known for its groundbreaking Tony Award-winning choreography—and which Jerome Robbins breathtakingly adapted for the 1961 film version—dance experience is merely a “plus.” (Anita and Bernardo lead two of the show’s biggest and most beloved dance numbers, “America” and “Dance at the Gym.”)
Despite its faults—the aforementioned brownface, Natalie Wood’s mortifying attempt at a Puerto Rican accent—the original onscreen West Side Story remains beloved today, and is widely thought to be the rare Best Picture winner that actually deserved the top prize. Many will argue that any attempts to come close to that cinematic wonder will fail, and that could be—who knows? But the combination of Spielberg and Kushner is intriguing. And should they do something along the lines of the most recent Broadway revival in 2009, which deliberately incorporated more Spanish dialogue and lyrics into the libretto—and based on the explicit call for Latino and Latina performers, it seems like they might—we could get a fresh take on this classic that goes well beyond the realm of mere remake.
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