Three months after casting Ansel Elgort as Tony, Steven Spielberg’s West Side Story has finally found its Maria.
EW has confirmed that 17-year-old Rachel Zegler has been cast as the female lead in the movie musical, which will be directed and produced by Spielberg. The New Jersey high schooler was one of 30,000 Latinx actors who submitted video auditions after the casting team put out a call online for submissions in January 2018. In her video, she performed “Tonight” and “Me Siento Hermosa.”
“[So] thankful to have the opportunity to work with one of my favorite directors and this incredible cast! and to be able to learn from the best (and one of my icons) @TheRitaMoreno is just BEYOND. surreal!” tweeted Zegler after her casting was announced.
“I am so thrilled to be playing the iconic role of Maria alongside this amazing cast,” said Zegler in a press release. “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.”
In addition to Zegler, the film has also cast Ariana DeBose (Hamilton, Summer: The Donna Summer Musical) as Anita, a.k.a. the role that Rita Moreno, who will also appear in the movie, played in the 1961 movie; David Alvarez (Billy Elliot: The Musical) as Bernardo, Maria’s brother and the leader of the Sharks; and Josh Andrés Rivera (Hamilton national tour) as Chino.
“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.”
“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.”
In the press release, Spielberg also added: “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. 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.”
Based on Shakespeare’s Romeo and Juliet, the iconic musical tells the story of Tony and Maria, who fall in love with each other despite being from rival street gangs: the white Jets and the Puerto Rican Sharks. The film features Moreno, who is also executive producing, as Valentina, a reconceived and expanded version of the character Doc. Pulitzer prize-winning playwright Tony Kushner adapted the script from the 1957 Broadway musical, which was written by Arthur Laurents with music by Leonard Bernstein, lyrics by Stephen Sondheim and concept, direction and choreography by Jerome Robbins.
Filming will begin summer 2019.