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‘West Side Story’ Remake Casts Newcomer as Maria

Steven Spielberg has cast 17-year-old high schooler Rachel Zegler as Maria in his remake of “West Side Story.”

She will make her film debut opposite Ansel Elgort as Tony. Broadway veteran Ariana DeBose has been cast as Anita and David Alvarez as Bernardo. Theater performer Josh Andrés Rivera has been cast as Chino.

Spielberg has already cast Rita Moreno as Valentina, a reconceived and expanded version of the character of Doc, the owner of the corner store in which Tony works. Moreno won an Academy Award for her portrayal of Anita in the 1961 film version of “West Side Story.” She’s also an executive producer on the remake.

“When we began this process a year ago, we announced that we would cast the roles of Maria, Anita, Bernardo, Chino and the Sharks with Latina and Latino actors,” Spielberg said. “I’m so happy that we’ve assembled a cast that reflects the astonishing depth of talent in America’s multifaceted Hispanic community. I am in awe of the sheer force of the talent of these young performers, and I believe they’ll bring a new and electrifying energy to a magnificent musical that’s more relevant than ever.”

The casting team for the remake put out a call online for Latin actors that received over 30,000 submissions. Zegler saw the notice on Twitter and submitted a video of herself singing “Tonight” and “Me Siento Hermosa” (“I Feel Pretty”).

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“I am so thrilled to be playing the iconic role of Maria alongside this amazing cast,” said Zegler. “‘West Side Story’ was the first musical I encountered with a Latina lead character. As a Colombian-American, I am humbled by the opportunity to play a role that means so much to the Hispanic community.”

DeBose was nominated for a Tony Award in 2018 for her portrayal of Donna Summer in “Summer: The Donna Summer Musical.” DeBose’s other Broadway credits include the original cast of “Hamilton,” “A Bronx Tale: The Musical,” “Pippin,” “Motown: The Musical” and “Bring It On: The Musical.”

“I’m honored to follow in the footsteps of the remarkable women who have played Anita – including Chita Rivera and, of course, the incomparable Rita Moreno,” said DeBose. “I relate so strongly to Anita – a strong Puerto Rican woman who came to New York in search of opportunity – and I feel so fortunate for the chance to work with this amazing cast and creative team.”

Alvarez won a Tony in 2009 for originating the title role in “Billy Elliot: The Musical.” He will play Bernardo, Maria’s brother and the leader of the Sharks. Following his appearance in “Billy Elliot,” Alvarez served in the U.S. Army’s 25th Infantry Division, before returning to Broadway in 2014 to join the company of “On the Town.”

“My parents emigrated from Cuba with no connections, knowing no English, driven only by the hope of a better life. I know how challenging the decision was for them, and I see a lot of that internal conflict in Bernardo,” said Alvarez. “I have dreamt of playing this part since I first saw the original film, and I am so grateful for the chance to bring my own perspective and journey to this role – as an artist, a veteran and a Latino – and to work with this incredible cast to breathe new life into these characters’ experiences.”

Rivera most recently appeared in the first national tour of “Hamilton.” He will play the role of Chino, Bernardo’s best friend.

“’West Side Story’ is the dream for any performer, and to tackle it with this creative team is truly a once-in-a-lifetime chance,” said Rivera. “I feel very fortunate to be able to portray the Nuyorican experience alongside these amazingly talented actors. I’m confident Puerto Ricans on and off the island will see ourselves reflected in this project.”

The film will be adapted for the screen from the original 1957 Broadway musical, which was the basis for the 1961 movie. The play was inspired by William Shakespeare’s “Romeo and Juliet” and set in a New York neighborhood and focused on the rivalry between two gangs. “West Side Story” won 10 Oscars, including best picture. Natalie Wood played the role of Maria in the movie while George Chakiris played the role of Bernardo and won an Oscar for Best Supporting Actor.

Spielberg, Kevin McCollum, and Kristie Macosko Krieger will produce the remake, which will be released by Fox. Filming for “West Side Story” is set to begin in the summer of 2019. The news was first reported by Deadline Hollywood.

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