The American Director Steven Spielberg will premiere next week a version of the musical “West Side Story”, faithful to the original but with more Spanish and more politics.
“West Side Story” is a musical originally created in 1957 for Broadway by composer Leonard Bernstein, along with librettist Arthur Laurents, with lyrics by Stephen Sondheim.
It is a modern adaptation of the story of Romeo and Juliet, with the two protagonists, María and Tony, linked (despite themselves) with rival youth gangs, the Sharks (Puerto Ricans) and the Jets (white), in a New Violent, slum York.
The 1961 film, filmed by Robert Wise, dazzled the critics and the public (it won 10 Oscars) and elevated its protagonists, especially a young Natalie Wood and the Puerto Rican Rita Moreno, who won the Oscar for best Supporting actress, the first Latina to do so.
For his version, Spielberg has spared no effort or political charge.
Many dialogues between the Sharks are in Spanish, without subtitles.
On an equal footing
“The Spanish language had to exist (on the screen) in the same proportion as English,” said Spielberg, 74, at a press conference on Tuesday.
Rita Moreno repeats appearance on the screen. At 89, she plays the widow of “Doc,” a new role and one of the rare freedoms Spielberg takes from the 1961 musical.
For the rest, the choreography is still very careful, in particular the prologue (one of the spectacular moments of the film).
Spielberg has preserved the libretto, with the songs (“America”, “Tonight”, “Maria”) that helped catapult Leonard Bernstein’s work to the top of contemporary classical music in America.
New York has become part of the set again, like six decades ago.
“The city of yesterday exists even today … we have filmed in places that had not changed,” explained Spielberg.
The special effects simply consisted of digitally pulling out “the air conditioners, satellite antennas and window barriers,” he explained.
With a budget of $ 100 million (according to Variety) Spielberg had money for that and much more.
Like hiring a host of new actors, some in their first on-camera roles, like Rachel Zegler, a high school student who plays Maria.
Ansel Elgort, an actor who stood out in films like “Bay Driver” (2017), plays Tony.
“West Side Story” shook American public opinion in the 1960s by exposing racial tensions in the country.
The libretto “has not lost its relevance,” explained screenwriter Tony Kushner at the press conference.
“The film is more political than the first,” acknowledged Rita Moreno.
Puerto Rican roles are played entirely by Latino actors.
The socio-economic context of the time, in particular the pressure on real estate, has come to light again. Young people “fight because of their origins. But the territory in which they fight is also threatened with demolition,” Spielberg said.