In a new behind-the-scenes clip from the filming of Steven Spielberg’s upcoming West Side Story, the famed director shares how the production felt like a return to his childhood.
“I was 10 years old when I first listened to the West Side Story album. And it never went away.”
“You must make West Side Story,” the director had told himself. With the premiere just weeks away, Spielberg says he feels like he has fulfilled a dream and kept a promise.
It also feels like an incredibly timely production, too. Spielberg offers a personal maxim: “Divisions between un-like-minded people is as old as time itself.” The divisions of the Jets and the Sharks were profound, the director admits, “but not as divided as we find ourselves today.”
The film adapts Arthur Laurents, Leonard Bernstein, and Stephen Sondheim’s 1957 Broadway musical about star-crossed lovers in rival gangs. Set in 1950’s New York, the story follows Tony, the former member of the white street gang the Jets, and Maria—the sister of the leader of the Puerto Rican gang the Sharks—as they navigate racial divisions in pursuit of each other.
“It turned out in the middle of the development of the script, which took 5 years, things widened. Which, I think in a sense, sadly, made the stories of those racial divides, not just territorial divides, more relevant to today’s audience then perhaps it even was in 1957.”
Spielberg’s adaptation began development all the way back in 2014 at 20th Century Fox. Tony Kushner wrote the screenplay in 2017, but Spielberg only joined in the following year. The adaptation was filmed in 2019 and its release was delayed due to pandemic theater closures.
“It’s such a profound story,” Spielberg says, “It speaks to every generation.”
“It’s just that love bridges every divide. It’s timeless in the sense that we be reminded of that story as often as possible.”
The couple is portrayed by Ansel Elgort as Tony, the star of Baby Driver and The Fault In Our Stars, and Rachel Zegler, who makes her feature film debut as Maria. Time will tell if they live up to the other memorable castings of the couple.
The original production starred Karry Kert as Tony and Carol Lawrence as Maria. The musical lost the Tony Award for Best Musical to Meredith Willson’s The Music Man, but would go on to run for 732 performances, followed by a tour. It would run even longer in London.
And in 1961, Broadway choreographer Jerome Robbins co-directed a classic film adaptation with Robert Wise. Natalie Wood and Richard Beymer starred as the love interests. The film won Best Picture at the year’s Academy Awards.
Steven Spielberg’s West Side Story premieres in theaters on Dec. 10.