We’ve expressed our share of mild skepticism regarding Steven Spielberg’s remake of West Side Story, weighing the pros and the cons as we saw them, based on the limited promotional material released (location shots, stills and a teaser trailer). For us, there’s no reason to complain about a remake per se, since they’re a part of Hollywood history and 60 years is a long time to let a story that’s ostensibly about how racism intersects with violence in America go unexamined. The idea of a more ethnically appropriate cast is a major pro, although Spielberg may not be the best person to lead such a production. The major argument against this remake was that so much of it just looked like a shot-for-shot reproduction of the original 1961 film. But we’re suckers for a good trailer and the one released today has got us way more intrigued:
Here’s why our minds may be completely changed on this: Modern cinematic musicals tend to be somewhat small in scope, style and tone (think of The Prom or the upcoming Dear Evan Hansen). When modern musicals feature huge production numbers, they tend to do it in a very po-mo sort of way, making sure to underline that this highly unlikely musical number is happening in as mundane a setting as possible (think of the freeway dance number in La La Land or most of In The Heights). That juxtaposition of realism and fantasy was the point.
But Spielberg is a world-class stylist who, at his height, could make such mundanities as trucks, boats and suburban homes look like epic cinematic backdrops for outrageously emotion-driven stories that he told by manipulating the audience using every filmmaking tool at his disposal. He’s dabbled in musical forms in his career but has never done a full-blown feature length musical in the traditional style. We don’t blame anyone for looking at these shots and thinking that it all just looks a lot like a slightly more grandiose remake, but we’re really taken by that grandiosity and how he applied it.
He’s married a very old, MGM-style of heightened realism to the kind of swooping camera movements and highly stylized shot framing that typifies his style and uses literal real-world backdrops or sets with highly meticulous real-world aesthetics, but also utilizes eye-popping costume designs, colorful sets, and precious art direction that go back to some of the oldest musicals but was considered largely out of style by the time the 1961 film was made. There’s way more in the mix here than we originally assumed.
It’s a really interesting marriage of styles and references. And while we’d be the last people to ask if any of this looks like a faithful recreation of mid-20th century Nuyorican life and culture, the way this trailer centers the racism at the heart of the conflict and situates it in a larger vision of America feels like a much more thoughtful approach. We don’t know if all of this means that the new West Side Story will be the freshest take in the world, but it will definitely be a Spielbergian take, which means it will be both highly stylized and deeply in debt to some of the oldest of classic Hollywood films. This may get us back to the theater. It begs for a big screen.
Directed by Academy Award® winner Steven Spielberg, from a screenplay by Pulitzer Prize and Tony Award® winner Tony Kushner, “West Side Story” tells the classic tale of fierce rivalries and young love in 1957 New York City. This reimagining of the beloved musical stars Ansel Elgort (Tony); Rachel Zegler (María); Ariana DeBose (Anita); David Alvarez (Bernardo); Mike Faist (Riff); Josh Andrés Rivera (Chino); Ana Isabelle (Rosalía); Corey Stoll (Lieutenant Schrank); Brian d’Arcy James (Officer Krupke); and Rita Moreno (as Valentina, who owns the corner store in which Tony works). Moreno – one of only three artists to be honored with Academy®, Emmy®, GRAMMY®, Tony® and Peabody Awards – also serves as one of the film’s executive producers.
Bringing together the best of both Broadway and Hollywood, the film’s creative team includes Kushner, who also serves as an executive producer; Tony Award® winner Justin Peck, who choreographed the musical numbers in the film; renowned Los Angeles Philharmonic conductor and GRAMMY Award® winner Gustavo Dudamel, who helmed the recording of the iconic score; Academy Award®-nominated composer and conductor David Newman (“Anastasia”), who arranged the score; Tony Award®-winning composer Jeanine Tesori (“Fun Home,” “Thoroughly Modern Millie”), who supervised the cast on vocals; and Grammy®-nominated music supervisor Matt Sullivan (“Beauty and the Beast,” “Chicago”), who served as executive music producer for the film. The film is produced by Spielberg, Academy Award®-nominated producer Kristie Macosko Krieger and Tony Award®-winning producer Kevin McCollum. “West Side Story” has been adapted for the screen from the original 1957 Broadway show, with book by Arthur Laurents, music by Leonard Bernstein, lyrics by Stephen Sondheim and concept, direction and choreography by Jerome Robbins.
From 20th Century Studios, The Walt Disney Company will release “West Side Story” in U.S. theaters on December 10, 2021.
[Photo Credit: 20thCentury Studios – Video Credit: 20th Century Studios/YouTube]
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