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Ariana DeBose as Anita and David Alvarez as Bernardo in 20th Century Studios’ WEST SIDE STORY. Photo by Niko Tavernise.

“West Side Story” Early Reactions: Steven Spielberg’s First Musical is a Vivid, Vivacious Smash

You might have heard that a young, upstart director named Steven Spielberg was attempting to adapt one of Broadway’s most iconic musicals of all time, West Side Story. Well, now the first reactions to Spielberg’s take on the late, great Stephen Sondheim and Leonard Bernstein’s original 1957 Broadway show are pouring in, and they’re effusive enough to make you want to break into song. Spielberg’s version, based on a screenplay by his Lincoln collaborator and legendary playwright himself, Tony Kushner, is the first time West Side Story has graced the big screen since Robert Wise’s adaptation in 1961, which danced and sang its way to 10 Oscars. While it’s too early to tell whether Spielberg’s West Side Story will mop up that many awards, the buzz thus far is extremely strong. 

West Side Story was originally inspired by the doomed, iconic romance at the heart of Shakespeare’s deathless “Romeo and Juliet,” with the Capulets and Montagues replaced here by the rival gangs the Sharks and the Jets. The original musical was written by the aforementioned Bernstein, Sondheim, and Arthur Laurents. Spielberg marshaled an incredible crop of musical talent to harness the play’s legendary music while delivering something new. Conductor Gustavo Dudamel took on Leonard Bernstein’s famous score, Tony-winning composer Jeanine Tesori got the cast’s vocal chops in order, and composer David Newman arranged the music.

The story is centered on two star-crossed lovers, Rachel Zegler as Maria and Ansel Elgort as Tony. Zegler and Elgort are joined by a phenomenal cast, including one crucial addition—Rita Moreno. Moreno won an Oscar for her performance as Anita in the 1961 version, and now she’s back in a new role, playing Valentina, a character previously known as “Doc” in the 1961 version (played by Ned Glass). Valentina offers guidance to the young pups now taking center stage—or, screen. Moreno, Elgort, and Zegler are joined by Ariana DeBose, David Alvarez, Mike Faist, Corey Stoll, and Brian d’Arcy James.

West Side Story hits theaters on December 10. Check out the early reactions below:

We thought it would be fitting to end with these two tweets:

For more on West Side Story, check out these stories:

The Official Trailer for Steven Spielberg’s “West Side Story” is Here

A Special Look at Steven Spielberg’s “West Side Story”

Trailer Heaven: 9 of the Year’s Most Exciting Films

Featured image: Ariana DeBose as Anita and David Alvarez as Bernardo in 20th Century Studios’ WEST SIDE STORY. Photo by Niko Tavernise.

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