West Side Story: 5 Reasons I'm Really Excited For The Movie

West Side Story
(Image credit: 20th Century Studios)

I grew up in a very musical family. Both of my parents worked at Radio City Music Hall in New York City (where they met), and had a shared love of musicals, one that was passed down to me. One musical that we always adored watching, both in person and on the TV, was West Side Story, a classic movie musical that truly stands the test of time. 

Now imagine my surprise when I found out that this musical was going to be remade. At first, I didn’t know how to feel. With something that meant so much to me getting the Hollywood treatment of becoming just another reboot, I was admittedly turned off at the idea. But, after some of the early reactions that have come in, and the trailers I have seen, I have to say - I’m excited to see this movie. 

But there might be some people who are still a little hesitant to shell out the money to go and get a ticket to their local theater to see it. I’m here to tell you the reasons as to why I’m excited for this 2021 movie, and why you should be too - from a Puerto Rican, musical-loving girl’s perspective.  

Rachel Zeglar in West Side Story.

(Image credit: 20th Century Studios)

It’s Directed By Steven Spielberg - A Legendary Hollywood Movie-Maker

I don’t know if you’ve heard, but 2021’s West Side Story is going to be directed by this little up and coming filmmaker called Steven Spielberg. Really talented, great guy. 

Jokes aside, I personally feel very confident that the movie will be great just based on Spielberg’s track record when it comes to movies. I mean, the director has created some of the most successful movies and franchises of all time - the Indiana Jones franchise, Jurassic Park, E.T. The Extra Terrestrial, Saving Private Ryan, The Post - I mean, the list just goes on, and on, and on. 

Steven Spielberg has done some amazing movies, and I have a feeling that West Side Story is going to be one of his best. 

The Jets and Sharks have a stare-off in West Side Story

(Image credit: 20th Century Studios)

The Music Is Timeless

You really can’t get better than Stephen Sondheim when it comes to music. As someone who grew up watching West Side Story and listening to a lot of Sondheim’s other work, I have to admit that his music never gets old - and I’m glad to see that the 2021 version is sticking to that. 

What I mean is that a lot of remakes recently when it comes to musicals are trying to shake things up and be different. For example, Mamma Mia 2 exists. I mean, who ever thought that Mamma Mia needed a sequel? The live-action Disney movie, Beauty and the Beast added a song for the Beast to sing, and while it is a beautiful song, it really wasn’t needed. 

From what I see, it feels like West Side Story is sticking to its roots, which is something I can appreciate. 

Ariana DeBose in America number in West Side Story

(Image credit: 20th Century Studios)

The Diversity Of This Cast Is Much Better Than The Original

One of the biggest issues with the original West Side Story is that the diversity on the casting was god awful. That’s not to say that the actors didn’t do their job correctly, but there was barely any real representation of Puerto Ricans within the Shark gang in the movie - with the only Puerto Rican actress among the leads being Rita Moreno

But for 2021’s version, Steven Spielberg made it explicitly clear that he wanted to be authentic with casting, according to Newsbreak.

I wanted to cast it authentically, to ensure that the actors playing the Shark boys and girls were 100% Latinx, and young.

Again, as someone who grew up watching this film idolizing Anita as the only true Puerto Rican in West Side Story, I am so happy to hear that he is stepping forward in that realm of true representation. 

Just imagine all the little theater kids out there just like me who don’t have to pick and choose who they look up to - now, they have an accurate cast that fully represents who they are.

Another thing I love related to the diversity is Spielberg’s decision to omit subtitles for the scenes spoken in Spanish with the Shark gang in West Side Story. 

While it does seem controversial in certain ways, I think it could be an excellent way to not only make the musical more authentic and real, but it may serve to make the audience member feel that frustration as an immigrant trying to adapt to the strange cultural barriers of other groups when you don’t know the language. It’s a brilliant artistic move that I think will make this version even better. 

David Alvarez as Bernardo in West Side Story

(Image credit: Disney)

The Violence In The Film Is Expected To Be More Realistic

As much as I do love musicals, both classic and modern ones, I have to admit that sometimes, the fight scenes can be a little campy. West Side Story originally had fight scenes but they felt very choreographed. They didn’t feel authentically real and felt more like the actors were tip toeing around each other through choreography rather than just making it look like a pure fight. 

However, from the sound of it, Spielberg's goal was to make these fight scenes a lot more realistic, and as someone who’s seen the original movie so many times, I can get behind that. The whole entire conflict of this film revolves around the battle between the Sharks vs the Jets, two seemingly terrifying groups of people who are violent. The audience should feel that fear too - and yet, I never did while watching the 1961 movie. 

I’m excited to see what Steven Spielberg does to make these fights not only still have that same musical flair, but make them actually feel like a real fight. I want to feel like a spectator watching it all go down, and have that fear run through me like it does with the characters. We’re supposed to be scared of these gangs - and I hope his movie succeeds in doing so. 

Ansel Elgort and Rachel Zegler in West Side Story.

(Image credit: 20th Century Studios)

It Will Be A Great Way To Pay Tribute To One Of The Most Brilliant Minds In All Of Musical Theater - Stephen Sondheim 

As a musical theater lover, it shocked and saddened me to learn of Stephen Sondheim’s recent passing. His legendary music will live on in the musical theater industry as well as the entertainment world in general. Which is why I think West Side Story is the perfect way to honor his legacy. 

Recently, Stephen Sondheim got to see the movie before he passed away, and said that they had ‘done good’ with the remake, praise that makes me excited to see this and even more sad to know that Sondheim will never get to experience this version in a theater with an audience. 

But this is how we repay him for all that he has done, heading out to the theaters, sticking our butts down in those chairs, and watching this classic forbidden love story play out on the screen. I’ll always cherish everything Sondheim has done, and I can’t wait to see the reactions that everyone else will have to this wonderful piece of work, all coming from the mind of this brilliant man. 

The release is right around the corner, and I’m jumping at the chance to get tickets as soon as possible. The music, the dancing, the love story - it’s exactly what I need in a movie right now and I have a feeling that West Side Story will fulfill it.

Alexandra Ramos
Content Producer

A self-proclaimed nerd and lover of Game of Thrones/A Song of Ice and Fire, Alexandra Ramos is a Content Producer at CinemaBlend. She first started off working in December 2020 as a Freelance Writer after graduating from the Pennsylvania State University with a degree in Journalism and a minor in English. She primarily works in features for movies, TV, and sometimes video games. (Please don't debate her on The Last of Us 2, it was amazing!) She is also the main person who runs both our daily newsletter, The CinemaBlend Daily, and our ReelBlend newsletter.