'West Side Story' Remake Casts 17-Year-Old Unknown as Maria
- Rachel Zegler, an unknown 17-year-old high schooler from New Jersey, who will play leading lady Maria
- Ariana DeBose, a Tony-nominated Broadway star ("Hamilton," "Summer: The Donna Summer Musical"), who will play Anita (the role originated by Oscar winner Rita Moreno)
- David Alvarez, a Tony winner ("Billy Elliot: The Musical"), who will play Bernardo, Anita's brother and the leader of the Sharks
- Josh Andrés Rivera, a veteran performer (the national tour of "Hamilton"), who will play Chino
According to Deadline, it was crucial to Spielberg and his filmmaking team that the cast include Puerto Rican and Latinx actors, since the story features Puerto Rican characters. Spielberg and screenwriter Tony Kushner traveled to Puerto Rico last year to speak "with professors and students at the University of Puerto Rico (Universidad de Puerto Rico – Río Piedras) to learn more about performing arts on the island," per the trade.
In a statement, Spielberg made it clear that he was pleased with the end result.
“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,” the director's statement said. “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.”
Zegler's casting is particularly exciting, since the young star has been plucked from obscurity to lead what is sure to be a massive film. She responded to the open casting call on Twitter last year, sending in videos of her singing famous "West Side Story" tunes “Tonight” and “Me Siento Hermosa” (“I Feel Pretty”).
“I am so thrilled to be playing the iconic role of Maria alongside this amazing cast,” Zegler said in a statement. “'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 all these fresh faces, original star Moreno will also be appearing the flick as a new character, Valentina, based on the character of Doc from the first film. Valentina owns the corner store where Tony works.
Production is set to begin this summer. More casting announcements -- including more members of the Sharks and the Jets -- are expected soon.