“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:
I was hoping that WEST SIDE STORY (2021) would sate my decades-long desire for Spielberg to do a musical. Alas, it is so beautifully shot and staged, such an absolute schooling of the usual musical directors, that I fear I now want him to make two or three more.
— Jesse Hassenger (@rockmarooned) November 30, 2021
Steven Spielberg’s #WestSideStory is stunning. His first musical is without a doubt superior to the 1961 film. The cinematography, music and dancing are amazing, and most importantly, it treats Puerto Ricans & Latinx community with the respect they deserve. Spielberg delivers. pic.twitter.com/3tb7eSvbzM
— Fico (@FicoCangiano) November 30, 2021
WEST SIDE STORY: when every frame of your movie looks like something you’d hang on the walls of your home that’s The Kaminski Method
— 🐛 Emma Stefansky 🐛 (@stefabsky) November 30, 2021
#WestSideStory is EXTRAORDINARY. 10 more Oscars please! #Spielberg‘s cam work is UNREAL- directors pls watch! The CAST- megatalented megawatt energy balls! @rachelzegler is magic @ArianaDeBose may be the 2nd Anita 2 win🏆#MikeFaist #DavidAlvarez r lightning! LOVED the love story! pic.twitter.com/ErFQ8Oke50
— Nikki Novak (@NikkiNovak) November 30, 2021
it’s sorta like you shouldn’t underestimate steven spielberg and tony kushner
— Esther Zuckerman (@ezwrites) November 30, 2021
WEST SIDE STORY is *phenomenal.* Steven Spielberg has been talking about making a musical for almost his entire career, and this was worth the wait. This is top-tier Spielberg.
— Chris Evangelista (@cevangelista413) November 30, 2021
I saw the new West Side Story tonight and WOW it is spectacular. Sweeping, emotional, remarkable staging, each shot looks like a painting, and I swear I didn’t breathe until the credits.
— Alex Wyse (@alexwyse) November 29, 2021
Steven Spielberg’s #WestSideStory is a TRIUMPH! It’s beautiful & brilliantly photographed – a real love letter to NYC w/ a tremendous ensemble cast who truly redefine this classic story for a new generation. Shout outs to @rachelzegler & @ArianaDeBose who CRUSH it in this film. pic.twitter.com/9wJbUJclnV
— Erik Davis (@ErikDavis) November 30, 2021
I’m in awe at how phenomenal WEST SIDE STORY is.
Steven Spielberg makes it look easy — but every frame of this film is him at the top of his game.
There’s not a misstep — figuratively or literally.
— Jake Hamilton (@JakesTakes) November 30, 2021
We thought it would be fitting to end with these two tweets:
thankful for you. ❤️ pic.twitter.com/ae3dqxvG6s
— rachel zegler (she/her/hers) (@rachelzegler) November 29, 2021
Tonight we give @WestSideMovie to NY. I am filled with butterflies. This film is a triumph for every single person who worked on it. I cannot fully express my love for our cast and crew. Forever grateful for this life changing experience🙏🏾 pic.twitter.com/WYL8h6qmHg
— Ariana DeBose (@ArianaDeBose) November 30, 2021
For more on West Side Story, check out these stories:
Featured image: Ariana DeBose as Anita and David Alvarez as Bernardo in 20th Century Studios’ WEST SIDE STORY. Photo by Niko Tavernise.