No need to forget the old West Side Story, but here's another!
Sixty years after the big-screen musical first snapped, twirled and mamboed its way into theaters and won the Oscar for Best Picture, Steven Spielberg brought us his take on the Shakespearean story of love almost finding a way amid a prejudice-fueled blood feud.
And with the tale as timely as ever and the music as enduring as it gets, the 2021 version (its release delayed a full year due to the pandemic) is also headed to Oscar night with a shot at the night's top prize.
In fact, you've still got time to watch the newer West Side Story—or both, if you're ambitious—before tonight's ceremony.
In screenwriter Tony Kushner's adaptation of Arthur Laurent's groundbreaking 1957 musical, which notably brought contemporary social issues to the Broadway stage, a rapidly changing Upper West Side is squeezing out both the Jets and the Sharks as their mean streets are bulldozed to make room for future cultural landmarks like Lincoln Center (where the film's 2021 premiere was held, incidentally). But deep-rooted suspicion—of each other, of authority and anyone who tries to extend an olive branch—keeps them on opposite sides of the dance floor.
Unless they're coming together to fight.
From their respective corners and into this tinderbox walk Tony, a tender-hearted former Jet, and Maria, a Puerto Rican immigrant whose big brother Bernardo is head of the Sharks. They're instantly smitten but, while they're busy dreaming of a future together away from all the hate, they inadvertently trigger a tragic chain of Romeo and Juliet-inspired events.
Spielberg—making his first-ever musical—sought to right some of the more glaring indignities in his film's predecessor, including the lack of Hispanic actors on the Sharks' side and the fact that future EGOT winner Moreno, who actually is Puerto Rican, was put in makeup to make her skin look darker as Anita, Bernardo's girlfriend and Maria's best friend.
Talking to Parade, Moreno, an executive producer on the new version, called the script "wonderfully improved" and the story itself "more relevant than ever."
Spielberg told E! News at the Nov. 29 premiere, "It took about a year to find all the cast, tapes came in from 35,000 individuals auditioning for Maria, Tony, Anita and Bernardo. Ironically, the second person I saw on my first day of casting, was Rachel [Zegler]."
Ansel Elgort, starring as Tony opposite Zegler's Maria, called the experience "magical," telling Entertainment Tonight in 2019, when production was ongoing, "It's been a dream working with the best people in the business. We're having a lot of fun and pushing ourselves. It's been really great."
In honor of both films, here's a look at the 1961 cast vs. Spielberg's version, a new generation in the driver's seat of this classic ride:
(An earlier version of this story was published Dec. 11, 2021, at 3 a.m. PT)