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Steven Spielberg Reveals A Hidden Homage To The Original West Side Story Movie

2021 has been chock full of movie musicals, including the film adaptations of beloved Broadway shows like In the Heights and Dear Evan Hansen. The iconic Steven Spielberg got in on the fun with West Side Story, which debuted in theaters last weekend. And he revealed a hidden homage to the original West Side Story to us here at CinemaBlend.

Prior to the release of West Side Story, I had the privilege of speaking with Steven Spielberg and the starring cast of his acclaimed movie musical. As you can see in the video above, I asked the iconic director about any visual homages to the original 1961 movie he might have snuck in. And there was one major visual nod that was repeated, as he told me:

There’s only one homage to the 1961 movie. And it kind of shows just the difference in terms of the polite kids in the sixties, and these kind of juvenile delinquents from our version of the 1950’s. And it’s just simply when, during the ‘Jets’ song, there’s these two young Black kids and they’re doing their white chalk designs on the sidewalk. And all the Jets literally scuffed through their work and ruin it. As opposed to in the original ‘61 film they’re walking around the circle the little girl was chalking on the basketball court. That was really the only wink.

There you have it. While the new West Side Story told basically the same story we already know and love, Steven Spielberg and screenwriter Tony Kushner definitely put their own spin on the characters. Spielberg also introduced a ton of new cinematography, although he included a nod to the 1961 original in the Jets song. Did you catch it in theaters?

Steven Spielberg’s comments show how methodically the E.T. director approached his work on West Side Story. While the 1961 original movie is iconic in his own right, the new version is definitely not a shot-for-shot remake. In fact, there’s only a few brief moments where the visual harkens back to that Oscar winning adaptation.

In the new West Side Story, the Jets destroy from chalk drawings when singing their first big number. But the chalk moment from the original movie occurred in the opening sequence, which shows the Jets and Sharks fighting for control over their turf. As a reminder, you can see that scene in its full glory below,

Hardcore fans of West Side Story will also note another time that Spielberg’s version gives an homage to the original: when Tony and Maria meet for the first time at the dance. Ansel Elgort and Rachel Zegler do the iconic choreography from the original production, including their finger snaps. This is the only time that original choreo is used in the new movie, which otherwise features the cast debuting new dances.

West Side Story is in theaters now, and will likely continue making money through the upcoming Holiday break. In the meantime, check out the 2021 movie release dates to plan your next movie experience. 

Corey Chichizola

Corey was born and raised in New Jersey. Double majored in theater and literature during undergrad. After working in administrative theater for a year in New York, he started as the Weekend Editor at CinemaBend. He's since been able to work himself up to reviews, phoners, and press junkets-- and is now able to appear on camera with some of his famous actors... just not as he would have predicted as a kid.