Bernstein daily: Spielberg is casting West Side Story

January 25, 2018 by norman lebrecht


Word is out that casting director Cindy Tolan is seeking actors for the four lead roles in West Side Story – Maria (18-20), Tony (18-23), Bernardo (20-24) and Anita (20-24). All have to sing. Three must speak Spanish.

Tony Kushner is said to be writing the film script for Stephen Spielberg.

OK, guys: beat this:


Comments (32)

  1. Eric says:

    Fascinating. But, it would be so hard to spell the director’s name right: it’s Steven and not Stephen.

  2. Sue says:

    What uber violence will this depict!!

  3. Robert Holmén says:

    Spielberg version:

    -ET will sing “I Feel Pretty”
    -Tony killed by giant rolling boulder
    -“Sharks” are actual sharks

  4. Cubs Fan says:

    Terrible idea. WSS was a product of a period and place that the creators understood and lived in. I think Bernstein, Laurents, and Sondheim are going to get 2nd place billing to Spielberg. Remake bad movies (there are plenty), don’t remake great ones.

    1. Arturo says:

      Totally agree.

    2. C Porumbescu says:

      I doubt that whatever Spielberg does to West Side Story will be any more offensive than what Bernstein himself inflicted on the show with that gruesome “operatic” recording in the 1980s.

      1. Sue says:

        Disagree. Spielberg is well capable of excessive bad taste with his ‘theme park’ productions. He loves film and all that, but it needs to be about film and NOT always all about him.

        I recently held in my hand Jerome Robbins’s script for the West End production of WWS in London; it has pencil markings and comments throughout and had been bound in leather. A friend who worked in West End theatre bought it some years ago from another friend. It was a special moment, holding that script.

  5. B.K. says:

    I’d bet this will be every bit as good as Gus Van Sant’s remake of Hitchcock’s “Psycho”.

  6. herrera says:

    Ariana Grande = Maria
    Justin Bieber = Tony

    1. Sue says:

      I was thinking Reese Witherspoon for Maria and Steve Carell for Tony.

      1. Dave says:

        Steve Carell is a little long in the tooth. (Age 55.)

        1. Sue says:

          I was being sarcastic and making a point about casting in a Spielberg ‘musical’!!

          1. Dave says:

            Sorry, I can’t read minds, even small ones…

  7. FS60103 says:

    Jets versus SHARKNADO!

    Now that I would pay to see.

  8. Mr Oakmount says:

    And why not? Today’s kids find it hard to realate to these colourfully dressed young adults who go to a dance with a tie as street gangs. I also don’t see why the story and music should not survive a new version.

    1. Sue says:

      Like Baz Lurhmann’s “Romeo and Juliet” it needs a good dose of old-fashioned in-your-face violence, profanity, nudity and aggression. Plenty of guns and drugs too. That’s what young people relate to. (God help us.) It might be a good exercise to demonstrate how far down the food chain we’ve gone since the original film.

      1. FS60103 says:

        Absolutely. Gang warfare and violent death in the slums must at all times be presented with the most exquisite delicacy and good taste.

        1. Sue says:

          Must we have them at all? If so, why stop there? We can use nanotechnology to get into the veins of a drug user too.

  9. Charles Clark Maxwell says:

    The old film is a bit creaky. High time for a new version

  10. MacroV says:

    At least this time the hair and makeup might be a little more realistic. You still have Bernstein’s music, Sondheim’s lyrics and, I assume Robbins’ choreography (although maybe they’ll replace that). I assume Spielberg will know how not to degrade a classic like WSS, but it’s a risk.

    1. Tiredofitall says:

      I take it that you were not alive in the late 50s to know how people dressed and women wore their hair and makeup in New York. I was. It was of a period, true, and realistic for it’s time.

      1. Sue says:

        The only thing which annoys me in the film these days is the snapping fingers and the goofy performance of John Astin – that was just embarrassing. Otherwise, it’s a complete masterpiece and I’d mortgage my house on a ‘remake’ being unable to go within the proverbial bull’s roar of the original.

      2. MacroV says:

        I was thinking more of the Sharks and Jets, from the opening montage. And efforts to make guys in their mid-late 20s look like teenagers.

        1. Sue says:

          All forgiven because of phenomenal talent, music and choreography!!! I still remember “Romeo and Juliet” made in the 30s with Norma Shearer (then well over 30) playing Juliet and, I think, Romeo played by Leslie Howard. OMG.

  11. boringfileclerk says:

    I only hope that John Williams will be re-scoring the soundtrack.

  12. Luigi Nonono says:

    Realism is dead. So is naturalism. It kills the art of anything it touches.
    Spielberg is a great director, but this cultural icon must be left alone. Tony Kushner is no Arthur Laurents. While Robbins’ choreography for Maria could be improved on, that is a minor flaw in a masterpiece. I can’t believe Spielberg has nothing better to do. No one has ever made a movie, in the USA, about the Ballets Russes, or pretty much anything to do with the development of dance in this country. That’s a pretty huge topic. And musicals require special skills. Does Spielberg possess them? Has he ever made a film with a fine musical score? John Williams does not count. He’s a second-rate Brit who would not have had big success in Britain, I think. He’s good at orchestration, but his themes are awful.
    Frankly, I’m totally surprised any of the copyright holders would allow this. A restoration of the original, yes, a remake? Never!

    1. Hilary says:

      Correct me if I’m mistaken but I thought there was talk of a Bernstein film in the pipeline. Michael Douglas cast as Bernstein which did seem astute.

    2. Schnitzel von Krum says:

      Er, hello? Not a Brit. John Towner Williams, born February 8, 1932 in Floral Park, New York, to Esther (née Towner) and Johnny Williams,[9] a jazz percussionist who played with the Raymond Scott Quintet. “My father was a Maine man—we were very close. My mother was from Boston. My father’s parents ran a department store in Bangor, Maine, and my mother’s father was a cabinetmaker.”
      His orchestrations are indeed very fine, but I seriously doubt he’d be so rich and famous if people worldwide didn’t love – and hum, and chant – his melodies.
      I also doubt he would be so arrogant as to try to improve on the unimprovable original.

    3. Arturo says:

      John Williams a Brit? OMG. What planet are you living on? He is as American as they come, complete with US military service. He is arguably the US’s greatest living film composer & you think he’s British? Geez.

  13. Arturo says:

    One of the few advantages that could come out of a remake is maybe a more realistic casting nationality-wise. Latino/o singers, actors & dancers should be front-stage center in WSStory. All I remember from the movie was a sensational Chita Rivera & a bunch of white guys with heavy brown make-up. It was the 60’s equivalent of actors in black face – rather offensive in this day and age.

    And then in a bizarre twist, Carreras, with his strong Spanish accent, was cast as Tony. It just never made sense to me.

    Perhaps this will finally be an opportunity for all of this to be rectified. I, for one, would like to see a non-accented American Tony (there is no shortage of qualified US tenors) and a strong Latino cast in the Jets roles.

  14. Sue says:

    @Dave; probably just a case of myopia, I expect.

  15. Posaune says:

    I read that Adam Sandler is remaking Citizen Kane.

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