Last week, I went to the movie theater for the first time since December 2019. I had to look back in the blog's archives to even remember what that movie was (turns out it was Bombshell, which I saw at the West Newton Cinema).
Before I share all my thoughts on West Side Story, let me proactively answer a few questions. Yes, I am fully vaccinated. Yes, I wore my mask the entire time. Yes, I was able to sit distanced from other people (including the people I went with). Yes, I felt safe.
With that out of the way, let's talk about this remake, which is directed by Steven Spielberg. This is his first-ever musical.
I was excited to see this revamp because I grew up singing along to the original soundtrack from the movie. I saw the film as a little girl, and got to know the story and lyrics much better when West Side Story was selected as the spring musical for my high school when I was a sophomore. Several of my friends were cast in the show and I went to multiple performances.
This 2021 reboot begins with the camera panning over a pile of rubble. The west side is being torn down and rebuilt, and two rival gangs are fighting for their turf.
Riff, the leader of the Jets, is played by Broadway veteran Mike Faist (Dear Evan Hansen). I thought he was cast perfectly. David Alvarez takes on the role of Bernardo, leader of the Sharks.
To try and keep the peace, there's a dance scheduled and both groups are invited (go ahead and suspend logic on that premise). That's where our lovers meet, Tony and Maria.
Tony is played by Ansel Elgort, who I know as Gus in The Fault in Our Stars, but you may also recognize from the Divergent movies or Baby Driver. I thought he was great here - reformed from his time in prison, romantic, and hopeful for the future. I've read and listened to many reviews where he was criticized for having no authentic emotion in this part. If you saw it, I'm curious to hear your take!
Maria is played by newcomer Rachel Zegler. If you've read about her at all, you know a video she made of herself covering "Shallow" from A Star is Born went viral. She was selected from a pool of 30,000 women who auditioned for this role. I thought she was excellent. I believed in her chemistry was Tony, in her desire to build a new life in America, and in her total devastation at the end. I also think she has a beautiful singing voice.
For me, the star of the film was Ariana DeBose in the role of Anita. She was in the ensemble for Hamilton and mostly recent as Emma Tate in Schmigadoon! In this role, she steals every scene she's in. My favorite song of the entire show is "America," which she lead with total conviction (and the required antagonism). Her costumes were also incredible. Watching her made we want a dress with a giant ruffled skirt.
As a special treat, the film also includes a new role for the original Anita, Rita Moreno. She plays Valentina, a local shop owner who is keeping Tony safe. In the movie, Valentina sings "Somewhere," which will likely bring you to tears.
Even though I went in knowing how the story ends, I still cried during the final scene and as the credits rolled.
If you decide you want to see it in the theater, the movie is long. It clocks in at two hours and 36 minutes. That said, it's awesome to see the athletic choreography on the big screen.
My one regret is that I couldn't sing and clap along to every song! If other people in the theater had started clapping, I would have joined right in, but on this night, it wasn't that kind of crowd. I was joking with my friends that we should see it again, but rent out the theater so we could belt it out to our heart's content.
It felt amazing to be back in a movie theater and see a new release on opening weekend. I miss that excitement.
*Images courtesy of Indie Wire, Entertainment Tonight, Newsweek and The New York Post.