Steven Spielberg is making his very own West Side Story, but he’s run into a bit of a pre-production snag: Almost no big time Hollywood actors these days can act, sing, and dance, and do them all amazingly. You know who can apparently do all three? Ansel Elgort! As per The Hollywood Reporter, the The Fault in Our Stars star just nabbed the role of Tony, the male lead in the classic musical.
So far, Elgort — who danced his way through Edgar Wright’s delightful Baby Driver, which is close enough to making him 2018’s Tommy Tune — is the only cast member publicly announced. We do know the screenplay will be written by no less than Tony Kushner, the Pulitzer-winning playwright of Angels in America, who’s also penned the scripts for Spielberg’s Munich and Lincoln.
West Side Story, of course, is the classic modern-day urban riff on Romeo and Juliet that was first a popular musical and then an Oscar-gobbling movie from 1961, starring Natalie Wood, Rita Moreno, plus future Twin Peaks scene stealers Richard Beymer (who played Tony) and Russ Tamblyn (who played fun-loving Riff — a far, far, far cry from gold shovel fanatic Dr. Jacoby).
The dynamic duo of Leonard Bernstein (music) and Stephen Sondheim (lyrics) managed to crank out untold deathless show stoppers, among them “Maria,” “America,” “Tonight,” “I Feel Pretty,” “Jet Song,” and the admittedly semi-grating “Gee, Office Krupke.” “Cool” is pretty good, too.
The casting of Elgort strongly implies Spielberg and Kushner will stick to the ethnicities depicted in the original show and movie, namely a white gang caught in a tiff with a Puerto Rican gang in New York City. There’s no word yet if the two filmmakers will relocate the story to the modern day or retain the 1950s NYC-by-way-of-1300s Verona setting.
The original West Side Story film, which won the Best Picture Oscar and nine others, was directed by choreographer Jerome Robbins and Robert Wise, the latter who also helmed The Day the Earth Stood Still and The Sound of Music. (Plus Star Trek: The Motion Picture.) Wise also edited Citizen Kane, and was responsible, reluctantly, for brutally cutting up Orson Welles’ follow-up The Magnificent Ambersons, the excised footage of which is presumed lost forever and considered the Holy Grail of cinema.
Incidentally, you know who’s a gigantic fan of the West Side Story movie? Spielberg’s sometime co-worker Michael Bay! Here’s a New York Times article in which the bro director gushes, with his limited vocabulary, about the ways in which a film about snapping, singing gang members inspired such pictures as Bad Boys, The Island, and Transformers: Revenge of the Fallen.