West Side Story (2021 film)

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West Side Story
West Side Story 2021 Official Poster.jpg
Theatrical release poster
Directed bySteven Spielberg
Screenplay byTony Kushner
Based onWest Side Story
by Arthur Laurents
Leonard Bernstein
Stephen Sondheim
Jerome Robbins
Produced by
Starring
CinematographyJanusz Kamiński
Edited by
Music byLeonard Bernstein
Production
companies
Distributed by20th Century Studios[2]
Release date
Running time
156 minutes[3]
CountryUnited States
Languages
  • English
  • Spanish
Budget$100 million[4]

West Side Story is a 2021 American musical romantic drama film directed by Steven Spielberg from a screenplay by Tony Kushner. The film is the second feature-length adaptation of the 1957 stage musical of the same name with a book by Arthur Laurents, music by Leonard Bernstein, lyrics by Stephen Sondheim, and choreography by Jerome Robbins.[5][6] It stars Ansel Elgort and Rachel Zegler (in her feature film debut) with Ariana DeBose, David Alvarez, Mike Faist, and Rita Moreno in supporting roles. Moreno, who appeared in the 1961 film adaptation, is also an executive producer, alongside Kushner.[1]

The film started development in 2014 by 20th Century Fox and Kushner started writing the screenplay in 2017. In January 2018, Spielberg was hired and casting began by September 2018. Justin Peck choreographed the dance sequences. Filming began in July 2019 and wrapped up two months later. Shooting occurred in New York and New Jersey.

West Side Story had its world premiere at Jazz at Lincoln Center's Rose Theater in New York City on November 29, 2021, and will be theatrically released by 20th Century Studios in the United States on December 10, 2021, after being delayed a year due to the COVID-19 pandemic.[2][7][8] The film received acclaim from critics for Spielberg's direction, Kushner's screenplay, the performances, musical numbers, cinematography, and faithfulness to the source material, with some critics claiming it to be superior to the 1961 film.[9]

Plot[edit]

Teenagers Tony and María, despite having affiliations with rival street gangs, the Jets and Sharks, fall in love in 1950s New York City.[10]

Cast[edit]

Source:[13][14][1]

Three of the Jets from the 1961 film of West Side Story, Harvey Evans, who portrayed Mouthpiece, Bert Michaels, who played Snowboy, and David Bean, who played Tiger, appear as extras. Andréa Burns, who played Maria in the 1992–1993 European Tour of the musical, appears as Fausta.[15][14]

Production[edit]

Development[edit]

"I've always wanted to make a musical. Not like Moulin Rouge though – an old-fashioned, conservative musical. ... Like West Side Story or Singin' in the Rain. I've been looking for one for 20 years. I just need something that excites me."

– Steven Spielberg, 2004[16]

In March 2014, Steven Spielberg first expressed interest in directing an adaptation of West Side Story. This prompted 20th Century Fox to acquire the rights to the project.[17] Tony Kushner, who previously worked with Spielberg on 2005's Munich and 2012's Lincoln, revealed in a July 2017 interview that he was writing the screenplay for the film, stating he would be leaving the musical numbers intact, and that the story would be more similar to the original stage musical than to the 1961 film.[10][18] In a 2020 interview, Spielberg told Vanity Fair: "West Side Story was actually the first piece of popular music our family ever allowed into the home. I... fell completely in love with it as a kid."[19]

The following year, he further explained why he felt the time had come for a new film adaptation of the musical, saying: "Divisions between un-likeminded people is as old as time itself. ... And the divisions between the Sharks and the Jets in 1957, which inspired the musical, were profound. But not as divided as we find ourselves today. It turned out in the middle of the development of the script, things widened, which I think in a sense, sadly, made the story of those racial divides – not just territorial divides – more relevant to today's audience than perhaps it even was in 1957."[20]

Pre-production[edit]

In January 2018, it was announced that Spielberg would likely direct the film following completion of filming for a fifth installment of the Indiana Jones franchise.[21] This was followed a few days later with an open casting call issued for the characters María, Tony, Anita and Bernardo.[22] Additional open casting calls were hosted in New York City in April, and in Orlando, Florida in May.[23] In July, the fifth Indiana Jones film was pushed back, allowing Spielberg to begin pre-production on West Side Story.[24]

Justin Peck was hired to choreograph the film in September 2018, with Ansel Elgort cast in the film as Tony.[25][26] In November, Eiza González emerged as a contender for the role of Anita.[27] Rita Moreno, who played Anita in the 1961 film, plays Valentina and also serves as an executive producer for the film.[28] In January 2019, newcomer Rachel Zegler was cast in the lead role of María, with Ariana DeBose, David Alvarez, and Josh Andrés Rivera also cast as Anita, Bernardo, and Chino, respectively.[29] In March 2019, Corey Stoll and Brian d'Arcy James joined the cast.[30] A month later, the rest of the ensemble comprising the Jets and Sharks factions was announced.[31]

Filming[edit]

Filming took place in Harlem and other Manhattan locations and in Flatlands, Brooklyn in New York City in July 2019.[32] There were ten days of shooting in Paterson, New Jersey,[33] where an outdoor set was built, in August 2019.[34] Filming also took place in Newark and other parts of Essex County, New Jersey.[35][36] It wrapped on September 27, 2019 for a total of 79 days of shooting.[37][38] All of the sets were constructed at a warehouse at Steiner Studios.

Music[edit]

Composer David Newman arranged and adapted Bernstein's original score for the film. Gustavo Dudamel conducted the New York Philharmonic during the film's recording sessions in 2019, with additional recording by the Los Angeles Philharmonic done during the COVID-19 pandemic the following year.[14] Jeanine Tesori served as vocal coach, while frequent Spielberg collaborator John Williams served as music consultant.[39][14] All of the songs were pre-recorded and used as playback on set, with the exceptions of "One Hand, One Heart" and "A Boy Like That/I Have a Love," which did not use the playback and were instead sung live on set by Ansel Elgort and Rachel Zegler on the former and Ariana DeBose and Zegler on the latter.[40] Portions of "Maria" were also sung live on set without the playback, as per Elgort's request.[14]

The soundtrack album was released digitally in Dolby Atmos by Hollywood Records on December 3, 2021. It will also be released on physical CD on December 10, 2021, the same day as the film.[41][42][43] The film's version of "Tonight," sung by Zegler and Elgort, was released as a digital download single on December 1, 2021.[44]

Alongside the soundtrack, "re-imagined" pop covers were also produced, including "Another Day in America" by Kali Uchis and Ozuna, which was released as a single on November 26, 2021, by Interscope Records.[45]

Musical numbers[edit]

  • "Prologue" – Orchestra
  • "La Borinqueña (Sharks Version)" – Bernardo, Quique, Braulio & Sharks
  • "Jet Song" – Riff, Ice, Diesel, Big Deal, Baby John & Jets
  • "Something's Coming" – Tony
  • "The Dance at the Gym: Blues, Promenade" – Orchestra
  • "The Dance at the Gym: Mambo" – Orchestra
  • "The Dance at the Gym: Cha-Cha, Meeting Scene, Jump" – Maria & Tony, Orchestra
  • "Maria" – Tony
  • "Balcony Scene (Tonight)" – María & Tony
  • "Transition to Scherzo" / "Scherzo" - Orchestra
  • "America" – Anita, Bernardo, Rosalía, Luz, Sharks & Shark Girls
  • "Gee, Officer Krupke" – Diesel, Big Deal, A-Rab, Mouthpiece, Snowboy, Baby John & Balkan
  • "One Hand, One Heart" – Tony & María
  • "Cool" – Tony & Riff
  • "Tonight (Quintet)" – Riff, Bernardo, Anita, Tony, María, Jets & Sharks
  • "The Rumble" – Orchestra
  • "I Feel Pretty" – María, Luz, Rosalía, Fausta, Charita, Lluvia, Meche & Provi
  • "Somewhere" – Valentina
  • "A Boy Like That/I Have a Love" – Anita & María
  • "Mambo (Reprise)" – Orchestra
  • "Finale" – María, Tony & Orchestra

Release[edit]

Theatrical[edit]

West Side Story was initially scheduled to be released in the United States on December 18, 2020 by 20th Century Studios.[2][46] In September 2020, due to the COVID-19 pandemic, parent company Disney delayed the release date to December 10, 2021, which will coincide with the 60th anniversary of the release of the 1961 film.[7] The film will have an exclusive 45-day theatrical run, including engagements in Dolby Cinema and IMAX.[47][48][49] An IMAX fan event, with a live Q&A with Spielberg and the cast, will take place in IMAX theaters nationwide on December 6, 2021.[50]

The film was first screened for members of the cast, including Zegler, Faist, Andrés Rivera and some members of the ensemble, at the Daniel Koch Theater in Lincoln Center on November 17, 2021.[51] It then screened for industry and critics at its world premiere on November 29, 2021 at Jazz at Lincoln Center's Rose Theater. Its Los Angeles premiere will be at the El Capitan Theatre on December 7, 2021.[52][8]

Marketing[edit]

On April 25, 2021, during the 93rd Academy Awards telecast, DeBose introduced the film's teaser trailer,[53] and Moreno later presented the Academy Award for Best Picture, commemorating the 1961 film's release and awards wins.[54] The film's official trailer premiered on September 15, 2021 on ABC's Good Morning America.[55] An exclusive look at the film, featuring extended sneak peeks at the "Dance at the Gym" and "America" scenes, was presented at the 49th Annual American Music Awards on November 22, 2021, introduced by Elgort and Zegler.[56]

A book by Laurent Bouzereau about the making of the film, featuring interviews with the cast and crew, was released by Abrams Books on November 16, 2021.[14] An ABC special, Something's Coming: West Side Story – A Special Edition of 20/20, aired on December 5, 2021.[57]

Box office[edit]

On December 4, 2021, Boxoffice Pro projected that the film would earn $14–22 million within its opening weekend, and around $55–85 million for its total domestic box office.[58]

Censorship[edit]

The film is banned in multiple Middle East countries, including the United Arab Emistrates, Saudi Arabia, Qatar, and Kuwait, due to the inclusion of Anybodys, a transgender character played by the non-binary actor Iris Menas. In some cases, Disney refused to make cuts requested by censors. An earlier Disney release, Eternals, was also banned from the same region. That film featured Marvel's first openly same-sex couple.[59]

Reception[edit]

Critical response[edit]

On the review aggregator website Rotten Tomatoes, 95% of 86 reviews are positive, with an average rating of 8.30/10. The website's critical consensus reads, "Steven Spielberg's West Side Story presents a new look at the classic musical that lives up to its beloved forebear – and in some respects might even surpass it."[60] Metacritic, which uses a weighted average, assigned the film a score of 85 out of 100 based on 36 critics, indicating "universal acclaim".[61]

Chris Evangelista of /Film wrote "Spielberg's "West Side Story" is a knock-out. A dynamite blend of old-school musical showmanship and modern sensibilities.It's one of the best movies of the year, and one of the best movies of the acclaimed filmmaker's career. Yes, really."[62] Peter Bradshaw of The Guardian wrote "Spielberg quite rightly doesn't try hiding any of those stage origins. His mastery of technique is thrilling; I gave my heart to this poignant American fairytale of doomed love."[63] Helen O'Hara of Empire gave the film five stars and wrote "Heartfelt and heart-breaking, this feels like Spielberg has made an adaptation faithful to its roots but also, always, alive to the modern world."[64] Jason Bailey of The Playlist wrote ""West Side Story" moves like a freight train, its 156 minutes passing in barely a breath, and that breakneck pace, combined with the expressionist aesthetic and candy-colored imagery, reminds us that blockbusters don't have to be greyscaled dreck."[65] Richard Lawson of Vanity Fair wrote that "Spielberg and Kushner have done justice to what Bernstein, Robbins, and the quite recently late Stephen Sondheim made all those years ago-not subverting its enduring value, but rather, with fire and grace, doing so much to earn it."[66] Owen Gleiberman of Variety wrote that the film "has a brash effervescence. You can feel the joy he got out of making it, and the kick is infectious."[67] Caryn James of BBC gave it five stars and wrote that "Spielberg is wise enough to know that the original West Side Story was once-in-a-lifetime. He has created his own miracle, a diversely cast, socially-aware film for today that embraces all that is sublime in its incomparable source."[68] Brian Lowery of CNN wrote that "The new West Side Story doesn't entirely answer the most obvious question, which is why essentially remake a 60-year-old classic. Director Steven Spielberg nevertheless justifies the effort as a dazzling showcase for this generation's talent."[69] Alonso Duralde of TheWrap wrote "Spielberg and Kushner give the venerable property a new paint job, secure a few walls, move a few windows and ultimately build their own edifice from the legendary Broadway musical."[70] David Ehrlich of IndieWire wrote "It’s a wonderful musical, and an unabashed Steven Spielberg movie. And the moments in which it most comfortably allows itself to be both of those things at once leave you convinced that some harmonies are worth waiting for, even if it seems like they’ve been always been around the corner and whistling down the river."[71]

Jake Coyle of Associated Press wrote that "It most definitely still plays the hits, but the film feels less like a Broadway-to-screen transfer than a cinematic staging of a classic."[72] Peter Travers of ABC News wrote "Is it sacrilege for Spielberg to re-imagine this 1961 musical classic? Not when it's this thrilling. Not when two new stars (Rachel Zegler and Ariana DeBose) get to share the screen with the legendary Rita Moreno. Then Spielberg sets the screen ablaze."[73] Philip De Semlyen of Time Out gave it five stars and wrote that "There's a substrata of genius-level artists at work here: from Spielberg himself, who delivers his best film in nearly 20 years, to the late, great Stephen Sondheim, Jerome Robbins , Leonard Bernstein and William Shakespeare -- and you can really feel it."[74] David Crow of Den of Geek wrote "Spielberg again turns to the iconography from his country's past to comment on its present and future; America's most acclaimed director undaunted in his quest to become its most visible on-screen conscience."[75] Grace Randolph of Beyond the Trailer gave the film a positive review, saying "Shockingly, Spielberg actually manages to improve the original film with more authenticity and therefore more raw emotion and meaning. Master craftsmanship across the board."[76] Kyle Wilson of AwardsWatch wrote "There are breathtaking surprises around every corner in Spielberg's West Side Story, moments that seem to be plucked wholecloth from a golden era Hollywood musical, drowned in Technicolor, and transplanted into our present consciousness."[77] David Rooney of The Hollywood Reporter wrote "There's no pain in surrendering to the sheer beauty and high style of a big-screen entertainment that's both a reimagining informed by contemporary values and a lavishly mounted throwback."[78] Moira MacDonald of The Seattle Times wrote "If you know the original "West Side Story" pretty well, watching this one is fascinating, like getting reacquainted with an old friend who now looks quite different."[79] Stephanie Zacharek of TIME Magazine called it "an exuberant modern fairytale" and wrote "I had no idea I needed this West Side Story until I saw it. This, possibly, is the best kind of movie, the stealth achievement that has been hiding in plain sight all along."[80] Leah Greenblatt of Entertainment Weekly wrote that "It feels like a rare achievement to even attempt to scale the unscalable and still, after more than half a century, be able to make it sing."[81]

Accolades[edit]

Ceremony Year Category Recipient(s)/Nominee(s) Results Ref.
Atlanta Film Critics Circle 2021 Best Picture West Side Story 8th place [82]
The Queerties Next Big Thing West Side Story Nominated [83]
Detroit Film Critics Society Best Supporting Actress Ariana DeBose Won [84]
Rita Moreno Nominated
Best Use of Music/Sound West Side Story Nominated
National Board of Review Top Ten Films West Side Story Won [85]
Best Actress Rachel Zegler Won
New York Film Critics Circle Best Cinematography Janusz Kamiński Won [86]
Washington D.C. Area Film Critics Association Best Film West Side Story Nominated [87]
Best Director Steven Spielberg Nominated
Best Supporting Actress Ariana DeBose Nominated
Best Youth Performance Rachel Zegler Nominated
Best Adapted Screenplay Tony Kushner Nominated
Best Production Design Adam Stockhausen
Rena DeAngelo
Nominated
Hollywood Critics Association Awards 2022 Best Comedy/Musical Film West Side Story Pending [88]
Best Director Steven Spielberg Pending
Best Supporting Actress Ariana DeBose Pending
Best Cinematography Janusz Kamiński Pending

Differences among film and stage versions[edit]

The film's screenplay hews more closely to the Broadway script of West Side Story than to the 1961 film adaptation written by Ernest Lehman.[10] Moreno, who played Anita in the 1961 film, plays Valentina, a reconceived and expanded version of the original character Doc, who serves as a mentor to the teenage characters.[28] A new Black character, Abe, makes the cast "more representative of ... 1950s New York".[12] Siblings María and Bernardo are given a surname: Vasquez.[11] Peck's choreography is original and does not attempt to replicate Jerome Robbins' choreography.[89] Some scenes are played out in Spanish or a mix of Spanish and English with no subtitles providing translation.[90] Spielberg further explained that the decision to not subtitle the Spanish dialogue was done "out of respect for the inclusivity of our intentions to hire a totally Lantix cast to play the Sharks' boys and girls ... If I subtitled the Spanish I’d simply be doubling down on the English and giving English the power over the Spanish. This was not going to happen in this film, I needed to respect the language enough not to subtitle it."[91]

The film follows the song order of the Broadway script, except that both "Gee, Officer Krupke" and "Cool" are performed in the first half, with "One Hand, One Heart" appearing in between. Tony sings "Cool" to Riff to get the Jets to wait to fight at the rumble that evening, instead of Riff singing it to encourage the Jets to stay cool during the war council at Doc's Drug Store.[14]

The locations where some of the songs take place, as well as some of their contexts, are also changed for this version. "America" now takes place the day after the neighborhood dance, on the streets of the Sharks' community in New York City, rather than on the rooftop of María and Bernardo's apartment on the same night of the dance, as seen in the stage show and 1961 film.[14] "I Feel Pretty" takes place at the Gimbels department store in this version, instead of María's bedroom in the stage show and the bridal shop in the 1961 film. In addition, the song appears after the rumble, like in the stage show, whereas in the 1961 film, it is sung before the rumble. The rumble itself takes place in a salt warehouse in this version instead of under a highway.[14]

Instead of the streets as in the stage show and 1961 film, "Gee, Officer Krupke" is sung in the 21st Precinct of the New York City Police Department, with the Jets mocking the police and wrecking the place up during the song. Instead of the bridal shop, María and Tony sing "One Hand, One Heart" in the Church of the Intercession, as part of their date, which also involves visiting The Cloisters.[14] The context of "Something's Coming" is slightly changed to reflect the character background change for Tony. In the stage show and 1961 film, Tony has the feeling that "something great" is just around the corner, like he tells Riff. In the 2021 film, however, Valentina tries to get Tony to pick himself up and start again after a hard and damaging life he had prior to the start of the story. She gives him the confidence that launches him into singing the song.[14] The dream ballet associated with "Somewhere" is omitted, like in the 1961 film. Still, the orchestration of its music, called "Scherzo," follows the balcony scene inside Maria's bedroom where she reacts to the joy of her romance.[92] Later, "Somewhere" is sung by Valentina. María sings a brief reprise of "Tonight" to Tony as he dies in this film's version of the finale, instead of "Somewhere."[14]

References[edit]

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