After more than a year of waiting, pandemic obliges, West Side Story, the first musical signed by Steven Spielberg, will premiere on December 10. Either one day before the 90e birthday of Rita Moreno, the unforgettable portrayal of Anita in the 1961 film adaptation of Jerome Robbins and Robert Wise.
“It’s an extraordinary film, more political than the original! exclaimed the artist during a virtual press conference hosted by Sunny Hostin in New York. I would have liked to be young like then and to do the whole film again. I love every scene I play, in this new version. “
“When my husband [l’auteur et journaliste Mark Harris] convinced me to accept Steven Spielberg’s offer, says screenwriter and playwright Tony Kushner, he then told me to get rid of Doc’s character and replace him with his widow, who would be Puerto Rican and be called Valentina. “
“It was absolutely sinister to play Valentina opposite Anita, it was even more so for the young actress; I had difficulty speaking in this scene where I just stopped the Jets from raping her, ”recalls Rita Moreno.
While Moreno was the only Puerto Rican actress in the 1961 version – she had to adjust her makeup to match the white actors painted in Latinos – she is surrounded by young actors from the Puerto Rican community in Spielberg’s version, who has her. moreover appointed executive producer in order to avoid a new West Side Story « whitewashé ».
“It was about time it was real Latinos playing in West Side Storyexclaims Ariana DeBose, who has taken over the role of Anita. I was impressed by Steven and Tony’s openness to take on an Afro-Latina actress for this role. I am proud of this validation of who we are, of our culture. “
“I learned from the film what it is to be Puerto Rican. I’m very proud of it, ”adds the interpreter of Chino, Josh Andrés Rivera. What does the new Maria think, once played by White Natalie Wood? “I never wanted to overshadow his work, only to give the best of myself. I already had enough pressure to be the first Latina to play Maria on the big screen, ”says Rachel Zegler, who did not need a vocal double, unlike Natalie Wood.
Speak Spanish ?
During the press conference, Sunny Hostin, an Afro-Puerto Rican-born, noted the lack of subtitles during the dialogues in Spanish. Remember that all the replicas of Arthur Laurents’ libretto from 1957, the year it was premiered on Broadway, were in English.
“The characters range from English to Spanish, especially when they’re in private,” says Steven Spielberg. In public, Anita asks everyone to speak English to better assimilate, to please New Yorkers. I thought it would be disrespectful to translate this language which must exist by itself. “
“I hope that those who do not understand Spanish will come back to see the film with someone who understands this language. We are a bilingual country, ”adds Tony Kushner. According to Rita Moreno, you don’t need to speak Spanish to understand what the characters are saying.
While they tackle topical issues, such as racism, juvenile delinquency and police brutality, Spielberg and Kushner did not want to change the era in which this tale freely inspired by Romeo and Juliet.
“There is nothing dated about Leonard Bernstein’s music or Stephen Sondheim’s lyrics; the language of his songs was the language that young people spoke in the 1950s – except that there was no Spanish. The first thing Steven told me was that he wanted young people who looked pale and hungry. He wanted to elegantly illustrate the poverty of these neighborhoods. West Side Story, it is a tragedy taking place in a setting which withers away ”, recalls Tony Kushner.
“I wanted real young people, not 30-year-old actors who play young people,” reveals Spielberg of the authenticity he was looking for. These young people are fighting not only to defend their community, but also their territory, in the shadow of a wrecking ball. In certain neighborhoods of New York, Brooklyn, Queen’s and the Bronx, the buildings haven’t changed much since the 1950s. The only thing that has been done on the computer, besides the sweat of the dancers who have turned the picture America in the middle of a heatwave that we had to erase, it is to remove the bars of the windows, the air conditioning and the satellite dishes. Otherwise, everything is genuine. “
On November 26, at the age of 91, the brilliant lyricist and composer Stephen Sondheim passed away. In February, he had the chance to discover the West Side Story by Steven Spielberg on the big screen. His dream would have been to see him among real spectators.
I wanted real young people, not 30-year-old actors who play young people. These young people are fighting not only to defend their community, but also their territory, in the shadow of a wrecking ball.
“Stephen, this is the first person I contacted when I snatched the copyright from West Side Story. I already knew him because I had produced Sweeney Todd, by Tim Burton, with Johnny Depp. For three weeks, five days a week, he was by my side, when we recorded the songs in the studio. It was a real honor to work with him, ”says the filmmaker.