Bernstein daily: Spielberg is casting West Side Story

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:


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  • Spielberg version:

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

  • 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.

    • 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.

      • 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.

      • I’m positive that a re-make of the film West Side Story will be even more graphic, guns will be used in the fights and the rumble, rather than switchblade knives or fisticuffs, and the romances between Tony and Maria, as well as Anita and Bernardo, will be more explicitly sexual and graphic, as well.

    • I stand by my opinion that the original 1961 great golden oldie-but-keeper of a classic film, West Side Story should be left alone, and not re-made.

      You all know where I stand on this one!!

    • Good point, Cubs Fan! The 1961 film version of West Side Story is a great, golden oldie-but-keeper of a classic movie-musical that won ten well-earned and deserved Academy Awards, including Best Picture, during the year that it came out. This film doesn’t need to be re-made. A re-make of this great film would just cut the heart and soul right out of it. Unlike many people, I don’t buy it.

    • True enough, Cubs Fan. The 1961 film version of West Side Story is far too much in a special class by itself to justify a re-make of it by anybody, including Steven Spielberg and Tony Kushner.

  • 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.

    • 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.

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

        • 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.

      • No way. The wonderful thing about the film West Side Story is that it doesn’t have an excessive amount of blood, sex, profanity, and there are no guns used in the playground fights or rumble. I say that this great golden oldie-but-keeper of a classic should be left alone.

      • This super-in-one’s-face violence, nudity, constant “blue language”, the use of guns instead of Fisticuffs and switchblade knives, and junky hip hop rap music are all what sell nowadays, and would result in a horrible re-make of the film West Side Story.

      • The fact that a re-make of the film West Side Story would have real doses of guns, drugs, profanity, explicit sex, bloodier skirmishes and rumbles, more killings and bloodier deaths, more explicitly expressed racism and ethnic prejudices and no hint of reconciliation between the Jets and Sharks, and a junkier form of the soundtrack that’s got much more hip-hop and rap in it is precisely WHY the film West Side Story shouldn’t be remade. The fact that that’s what today’s young people do relate to is, indeed, quite pitiful.

    • Our generation never, never demanded that certain films that the older generation(s) enjoyed be made to our tastes. So why should today’s younger generations demand that certain films that our generation enjoyed be tailored to their tastes and morals?

    • I have a bridge to sell you, Charles Clark: The original 1961 film version of West Side Story is a hell of a lot better than much, if not most of what’s coming out nowadays in the way of movies.

    • I suppose you’d like to see the old, original 1961 film version of “West Side Story” either relegated to the dustbins of history, or destroyed and/or suppressed altogether, and for Steve Spielberg’s re-make of the film “West Side Story” to take its place . Priceless! Ha ha ha! I’m not buying it.

    • Oh, come off of it! The new version will be even creakier, and a piece of junk, to boot. I see it coming.

  • 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.

    • 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.

      • 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.

        • The finger-snapping was a very vital, integral part of the story behind “West Side Story”, and the sort of goofy, optimistic behavior of Sean Astin didn’t bother me, at all.

      • 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.

        • 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.

      • There was quite a bit of a holdover in the 1960’s regarding how women dressed and wore their hair and make-up, not only in New York, but throughout the United States, as well.

    • What makes you think that Spielberg WON’T degrade the film West Side Story if he re-makes it? Spielberg’s done a number of really great films, but West Side Story is an iconic classic that should be left alone.

  • 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!

    • 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.

    • 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.

    • 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.

    • I agree. A restoration of the original 1961 film West Side Story, and a longtime national re-release of it into the movie theatres nationwide. Introducing young generations to the original golden oldie-but-keeper of a classic movie-musical that won 10 Academy Awards, including Best Picture when it came out in October 1961 would be the best.

    • Your points regarding the idea of re-making the 1961 film version of West Side Story make great, good sense, and are well-taken, Luigi.

      However, while Spielberg has done some really good movies, it’s agreed that he should leave the film West Side Story alone, and go on to something else.

  • 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.

  • The idea of a re-make of the original 1961 film version of West Side Story totally stinks. Frankly, I hope it flops, big time, in the box office and that people begin squawking for the revival of the 1961 original film version of West Side Story. THAT, imho, would be the best thing that happened!

  • Ever heard the expression “If it ain’t broke, don’t fix it.”?

    That applies here, in so far as a re-make of the 1961 film version of West Side Story is concerned. West Side Story is my all time favorite movie, hands down, and I do not want to see anybody even attempting to re-make it. Nothing can replace the original, no matter how hard anybody, including Steve Spielberg, attempts to do so.

  • Remakes of older classic films generally come out rather awful. Frankly, I see a re-boot of the 1961 film version of “West Side Story” being no exception to that fact.

  • At least, the search engines should be configured in such a way that much more weight will be given to the original 1961 film version of West Side Story.

    West Side Story fans should be given a choice of either seeing the old, original 1961 film version, or the re-boot of it. More frequent national re-releases of the original 1961 film version of West Side Story into both the independent and mainstream movie theaters here in the United States, should also take place, in addition to the re-boot of it, instead of making the old, original 1961 film version of West Side Story available only on TV, Blu-Ray, DVD, video, or Netflix.

  • Steven Spielberg’s re-boot of the 1961 film version of West Side Story is scheduled to hit the movie theatres in late December of next year, at around Christmas time. I have planned on boycotting Spielberg’s re-make of the film West Side Story when it comes out.

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