Actress Rita Moreno, who played Anita in the film adaptation of West Side Story, will be appearing in Steven Spielberg’s remake, Deadline reports. She’ll also serve as an executive producer.
The musical, an adaptation of Romeo and Juliet set in the world of teenage street gangs in a pre-gentrification Manhattan, opened on Broadway in 1957. Featuring music by Leonard Bernstein, lyrics by Steven Sondheim, and book by Arthur Lawrence, it was nominated for six Tony awards. Robert Wise and Jerome Robbins adapted it for the screen in 1961, casting Moreno as Anita, a role originated by Chita Rivera. Here’s Moreno in “America,” one of her character’s big songs:
The role earned Moreno an Academy Award for Best Supporting Actress, the first leg of her EGOT; she is one of only fifteen people who have won an Emmy, a Grammy, an Oscar, and a Tony. She marked the occasion with one of the all-time great acceptance speeches: “I can’t believe it! Good lord! I leave you with that.”
Spielberg is remaking the film with a script from Tony Kushner, his collaborator on Lincoln. Moreno will be playing a new character created for her, “Valentina,” who will replace the role of Doc in the original show and film. Doc, played by Art Smith on Broadway and Ned Glass on screen, runs an eponymous drug store where one of the main characters works and the warring Jets and Sharks meet. The new role will be “reconceived and expanded,” which is good, because Doc’s glum demeanor seems like a bad match for Moreno’s talent—even her statement about being cast in West Side Story is sparkling and exuberant:
Never in my wildest dreams did I see myself revisiting this seminal work. And to be asked by Steven Spielberg to participate is simply thrilling! Then to work together with the brilliant playwright Tony Kushner—what a glorious stew! I am tingling!
Filming is scheduled to begin in the summer of 2019.