Steven Spielberg‘s West Side Story has found its actress to play Maria opposite Ansel Elgort‘s Tony.
It’s been confirmed that New Jersey high school student Rachel Zegler will be playing the iconic role of Maria, the love interest of Tony, who is a member of a rival street gang. Natalie Wood played Maria in the 1961 original. The film was ahead of its time and one of the few to feature a richly diverse cast that had people of color in lead roles. It was one that helped Rita Moreno, who played Anita in the original and has a role in this new take on the story, to become the iconic figure that she is now.
Obviously with a film like West Side Story, any talent that is brought into the film will need to be able to sing. And before you question whether or not Zegler can sing, I suggest you take a look at the video of her singing a cover of “Shallows” from A Star Is Born. It left me floored. Check out who will be joining Zegler on the cast and the video, below.
Deadline reports that Spielberg and his team made it their mission to find the best actors in the Puerto Rican and Latinx community. The research process also included speaking to Hispanic heritage and advocacy groups, as well as having conversations with professors and students at the University of Puerto Rico to learn more about the performing arts on the island. Both parties continue to maintain a dialogue with each other.
Of the news, Zegler said:
“I am so thrilled to be playing the iconic role of Maria alongside this amazing cast. 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.”
Spielberg also released a statement, saying:
“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.”
Finally, Moreno said:
“I simply cannot wait to get on set to work with this group of young actors. What an ensemble, and I look forward to passing the baton to this next generation of Sharks!”
Zegler will be joining both Elgort, who will be playing Tony, and Moreno as Valentina, a re-conceived and expanded version of the character Doc, the owner of the corner store in which Tony works. Other new additions include Broadway veterans Ariana DeBose as Anita and David Alvarez as Bernardo. Theater performer Josh Andrés Rivera has been cast as Chino.
Written by Tony Kushner, this new adaptation of West Side Story is scheduled to begin filming later this summer.