NEW YORK: It’s one of the most beloved movies in musical cinema and now Steven Spielberg is giving West Side Story a makeover – except this time, he is recruiting Latino talent to play the lead roles.
The original film version of Leonard Bernstein’s musical – Shakespeare’s Romeo and Juliet reimagined in the world of warring New York gangs – came out in 1961, winning 10 Oscars and captivating a generation on the cusp of huge societal change.
For the remake, Spielberg is teaming up with playwright and screenwriter Tony Kushner, who has previously collaborated with the three-time Oscar-winning billionaire director on Lincoln (2012) and Munich (2005).
Casting director Cindy Tolan has issued a casting call for actors aged 15-25 to play the lead roles of Tony, Maria, Anita and Bernardo. Candidates “must be able to sing,” with dance experience “a plus,” it said.
The ad also specified that Maria, Anita and Bernardo were Hispanic characters.
In the original movie, the Puerto Rican character Maria was played by actress Natalie Wood, and Bernardo by George Chakiris, the son of Greek immigrants.
Anita was played by Rita Moreno, who is Puerto Rican and won an Oscar for her work.
West Side Story would be the first musical for 71-year-old Spielberg.
Last year’s live-action Beauty and the Beast and The Greatest Showman, and 2016’s La La Land have all entered the annals of the top 10 highest box office takings in the history of North American musical cinema.
West Side Story pits warring gangs, the Sharks and the Jets, against each other in Manhattan’s Lincoln Square on the Upper West Side.
Today, the neighbourhood is most famous as the site of the Lincoln Center, America’s premier performing arts venue where the Metropolitan Opera House first opened in 1966 and where apartments today can fetch millions of dollars.