The “West Side Story” Crew Bring Authenticity to Timeless Romance – The Hollywood Reporter

When the public finally sees West Side Story, one of director Steven Spielberg’s long-awaited passionate endeavor, the cast and production crew promise to deliver more than anything we already love about classic musical romance.

“It doesn’t take us too far away from what we love and hold dear West Side Story, but it changes some things that maybe should never have been done in the first one and updates things that are more true to what it was like being in the 1950s and being Puerto Rican ” , Isabelle Ward, who plays Tere, one of the Shark Girls, said Hollywood journalist at the film’s New York premiere on Monday night.

On the carpet at Jazz at Lincoln Center, other actors and key members of the creative team, including screenwriter Tony Kushner, confirmed that he and Spielberg did not want to stray from the film’s timeless history and “n ‘never thought of doing [West Side Story] more immediate, like placing it in the 21st century. Instead, they sought to create a film that honors West Side StoryBroadway roots, the strengths of its cinematic predecessor and the Puerto Rican community through a timeless period piece with a more authentic focus.

To accomplish this, the team engaged in a carefully crafted song and dance, much like the ones you’ll see in the film, that impacted everything from dialogue and costumes to choreography and supervision. musical. An expanded storyline, according to Bernado actor David Alvarez, gives the characters in the film – especially Tony and María – more development, and therefore a chance to further explore their motivations.

“This one really details the characters and where they’re from, who they are and why they’re going through what they’re going through,” he explained.

While this is certainly true for the Sharks, according to Alvarez, it also applies to the Jets, whom Kushner calls “a bunch of hooligans and racists.”

Kushner says he approached the film’s white male gang story as one where “there aren’t good people on either side, like our old White House Nightmare said.” But the Jets are very young, which ultimately leaves them room to redeem themselves in the end. So similar to his decision to offer more attention and nuance to the themes of xenophobia and racism, he also chose to explore how poverty and class came into play with this group.

“The Sharks are people who are trying to find their way in the United States, who are trying to find a home here. The Jets are a bunch of little racists and [Leonard] Bernstein, [Stephen] Sondheim, [Arthur] Laurent and [Jerome] Robbins knew it, ”Kushner said THR. “But because it’s also a story about poverty, one of the things – that doesn’t excuse what happened with the Jets, but partly explains their behavior – is that they are street rats. They live in the gutter, they are disastrous. If you listen to Officer Krupke’s words, it’s about homeless children, without families and without parents, and then, “Surprise! Surprise!” they turned into a pack of little nightmares.

While the film doesn’t shy away from fanatical notions of its white gang, efforts were made throughout the production to keep the script from perpetuating them about the Puerto Rican characters in the film. In addition to his own research, Kushner relied on translators, dialect teachers, a committee of film actors and more, to ensure that West Side StoryThe Puerto Rican portrayal of could “look real” and feel as authentic as it gets in the heart of the community.

It all started, according to the writer, with Julio Monge, a Puerto Rican dancer, choreographer and director of the theater and Broadway, who is also a friend of the writer. Wanting to present as much “good Puerto Rican, North American Spanish” as possible, the West Side Story The screenwriter said he passed it on to Monge who “did the first pass to translate everything at least into real Spanish as opposed to my Google translations”, before passing the story on to a much larger audience of Puerto Ricans. . It ended up yielding so many varied responses – “everyone had a different opinion on each line,” he said – that he, along with the movie’s dialect trainer Victor Cruz, became a bit more focused, forming what Kushner dubbed the “Puerto Rican Talmudic Study Group.”

Ansel Elgort, Rachel Zegler, Steven Spielberg, Rita Moreno, Ariana DeBose and David Alvarez attend the New York premiere of “West Side Story”.
Jamie McCarthy / Getty Images for 20th Century Studios

Made up of several members of the cast’s performers – either Puerto Rico or the Puerto Rican dissent – Kushner said they met weekly and “would have long talks on every line.” We were on the phone calling their grandmothers “and saying,” Would you say this? What does it mean?’ And we kept going until we had some lines that looked really legitimate and good. This group continued to weigh in on accents and other things that someone like me would never understand. “

Ana Isabelle, who plays Shark Rosalia and was born in Puerto Rico, was part of this group of performers. She says that Spielberg and Kushner made her experience on the film a “collaborative process” in which Spielberg, in particular, “took care of every detail of the film.”

“Tony had our opinions and we were really raw with him. He said ‘OK that’s noted’ and he actually fixed things,” Isabelle said.

Alvarez confirmed that the actors were “very involved,” but so were historians, “whether Puerto Rican historians are just New York area historians in the 1950s, who could really explain what was going on between these two different cultures. “

The result of these efforts might end up being the most obvious to the public, but there were other small modernization efforts for Spielberg. Paul Tazewell, costume designer for the musical – and Tony Award winner for his work on the hit Broadway musical Hamilton – Recount THR that the costume department “worked closely with hairdresser Kay [Georgiou], just by developing looks that would resemble the 1950s but could also be seen on a contemporary street and on a contemporary person.

The choreography also offers its own distinctive approach to staying true to the heart of the classic with small, modernized rotations. “Justin Peck did a wonderful job breaking down what Jerome Robbins did and then working from the essence of that. I think the movement will be a little different for people who have seen the Broadway show or the original movie, but it’s so much more intimate, ”said Kevin Csolak, who plays Shark Diesel, of the choreography and how Spielberg filmed it.“ You really get what I think the musical is. did and what the original film did. We just zoomed in a bit.

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Rita Moreno and Steven Spielberg at the New York premiere of “West Side Story”.
Jamie McCarthy / Getty Images for 20th Century Studios

Beyond the shifts in what is said and worn, West Side Story ‘Music Supervisor Matt Sullivan notes that there are a few slight tweaks to what you’ll hear as well, but not major ones and only in the service of the original orchestration – at the behest of Spielberg and the Bernstein Estate.

“Of all the elements of West Side Story, the the music is truly the most timeless. So we tried to be as close as possible to the Broadway show concept of the musical, ”Sullivan said. “There are nuanced things in there that are slightly different, but it’s not a different arrangement. This is Bernstein’s orchestration.

Music was ultimately a major topic of the evening, with many on the carpet paying tribute to the story’s lyricist Stephen Sondheim, who died on November 26 at the age of 91. But that was before the film’s premiere, just a day after remembering Times Square. , that the greatest homage to the premiere was paid by Spielberg himself. In a lengthy statement, the director spoke about Sondheim’s involvement in almost every aspect of the production and the bond he ultimately formed with the late icon.

“It can’t be the night we’ve been waiting for a long time, due to Stephen Sondheim’s absence,” Spielberg told the crowd. “His incredible work for West Side Story first put it on the map and launched a career that would completely redesign that map, reinvent musical and theater, and create a work that, without a doubt, is as immortal as anything done by a mortal can be. To borrow what Ben Johnson wrote about Shakespeare, Stephen Sondheim was not an age but forever.

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