West Side Story is one of my favorite musicals; it’s one of the few that doesn’t annoy me with its sentimentality and made me cry the first time I saw it. As such, I was excited and curious for Steven Spielberg’s remake that came out last weekend. I am happy to say that the two-and-a-half-hour film was not a disappointment. With a fantastic cast, the updated rendition of the musical stays true to the vision of romantic love flourishing between two people despite the odds of racism and poverty.

West Side Story (2021) is a remake of the 1961 film of the same name, which is an adaption of a Broadway musical first produced in 1957. Loosely based on Shakespeare’s tragedy, Romeo and Juliet, the story takes place in the slums of New York City in the 1950s. The Jets–a predominantly Irish, white gang–and the Sharks–a Puerto Rican gang–are rivals for control of the neighborhood. When Tony (Ansel Elgort), a former member and co-founder of the Jets, falls in love with Maria (Rachel Zegler), the younger sister of the Sharks’ leader, the racial tension between the two gangs grows hotter, ending in violence and tragedy for the young lovers.

True to form, Spielberg goes all out in grand cinematography for this production. The costumes are on point, music and singing are stunning, and many of the individual shots are beautiful as well. While there are some key differences from the original film, the musical scores remain the same and the main plot of the story stays consistent. The order of the musical scores, the characters who sing them, and the locations vary. Additionally, there are a few character differences. For instance, in the 1961 film, Tony’s employer at the drugstore is an elderly, Jewish man called Doc, whereas in the remake, the character is replaced by an elderly Puerto Rican woman named Valentina (Rita Moreno) whose deceased husband was white. In the remake, Valentina’s identity and marriage allow her to have a unique relationship with both gangs and gives her a closer relationship to Tony since she took a chance by employing him. Finally, Valentina is the one to sing A Place for Us, rather than Tony and Maria singing it to each other.

Natalie Wood as Maria,1961
Rachel Zegler as Maria, 2021

Another notable difference from the 1961 film is the portrayal of the character Anybodys (Iris Menas). Anybodys is a tomboy and informant for the Jets who wants to be accepted by them despite often being rejected. The character is loosely based on Romeo’s friend, Balthasar, in the Shakespeare play. While Anybodys’s sexuality is ambiguous in the original film, in the 2021 remake it is overtly suggested that the character is a trans man.

West Story is a dazzling rendition of the original film that maintains the spirit of its predecessor. As a person who was raised on a lot of vintage films, it was pure joy to experience the nostalgia of this reproduction in everything from the main musical scores, to the details in the costumes, and 1950s slang. This movie is a production that I know fans of the original will love and that I highly recommend seeing in theaters.













  • Director: Steven Spielberg
  • Cast: Rachel Zegler, Ansel Elgort, Rita Moreno, Iris Menas, Mike Faist, David Alvarez, Ariana DeBose,Brian d'Arcy James, Cory Stoll, Josh Andres
  • Screenplay: Tony Kushner
  • Music: Leonard Bernstein
  • Production Companies: Amblin Entertainment, TSG Entertainment

Credits (cont)

  • Distributed by: 20th Century Studios
Muriel Truax

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