'West Side Story' Generates Early Oscar Buzz as Reboot of Beloved Film and Play Hits the Silver Screen

"West Side Story" stars Ansel Elgort as Tony and 20-year-old Rachel Zegler as Maria, and is based on the 1957 stage adaptation.

The highly anticipated "West Side Story" premiered in New York City Monday and many attendees who saw the film are raving about it. 

It is so beautifully shot and staged, such an absolute schooling of the usual musical directors, that I fear I now want [director Steven Spielberg] to make two or three more,” wrote film writer Jesse Hassenger. 

“It was amazing,” Ringer writer Joanna Robinson posted on Twitter. 

“Sometimes when a film is that beloved like the original 'West Side Story' you go, ‘can lightning strike twice?’ Well, lightning has struck twice,” Fandango correspondent Nikki Novak told Inside Edition. 

I attended the first New York City press screening at a movie theater in Chelsea with a few hundred other entertainment journalists. It's a movie I've been closely following since a remake was announced about three years ago. I even went to see the sets built in Paterson, New Jersey when it was open to the public prior to filming. Uptown, at Jazz at Lincoln Center's Rose Hall, Spielberg paid tribute to the the film's lyricist, Stephen Sondheim who passed away 4 days earlier at 91 years old.

The film marks Spielberg’s movie-musical directorial debut and hits theaters on Dec. 10. Screenwriter Tony Kushner adapted the script, expanding on the characters and adding more depth in the process. There’s new dialogue, as well as nods to well-known lines from the original. 

“This is probably one of the most intimidating projects I’ve ever taken on...and a little crazy to take a masterpiece of theater which has already been turned into a masterpiece of cinema and try to do it through your different eyes and different sensibility,” Spielberg said in “West Side Story: The Making of the Steven Spielberg Film,” by Laurent Bouzereau, a new book for sale. 

"West Side Story" stars Ansel Elgort as Tony and 20-year-old Rachel Zegler as Maria, and is based on the 1957 stage adaptation. Zegler was one of 30,000 women who auditioned for the role of Maria following a national casting call. It took a full year of auditions and screen tests before Spielberg offered her the role in January 2019. She was 17 years old at the time. 

Even though she was headed for the big screen in her first professional acting job, Zegler still performed that year in her high school musical production of "Shrek." Her co-star Ansel Elgort was in the audience. After her final bow, Zegler wrapped up her senior year early, skipping her senior prom to begin work on the film.  

“I can’t wait to see Rachel Zegler and Ariana DeBose’s careers explode after this. They knock it out of the park as Maria and Anita in this beautiful crafted movie,” wrote Nora Dominick.

There’s also early buzz for Ariana DeBose as Anita, a role played by Rita Moreno in the 1962 Oscar-winning film, as well as for Moreno herself, who plays Valentina. It’s a new role in the film and takes the place of Doc, the drug store proprietor. In this adaptation, Moreno plays Doc’s widow, who runs the drug store where many of the film’s scenes take place. 

Moreno was the first Latina to win Best Supporting Actress for her portrayal of Anita. In 2018, she made headlines when she rewore her gown to the Academy Awards.

It would be incredible to see this woman who is about to turn 90 to win an Oscar for West Side Story. It’s never happened. It would be unprecedented and it's so deserved,” Novak added.