Stars of yesterday and today shine in Steven Spielberg's 'West Side Story'

BySandy Kenyon OTRC logo
Friday, December 10, 2021
Stars of yesterday and today shine in Spielberg's 'West Side Story'
Sandy Kenyon talks to the stars Steven Spielberg's film adaptation of "West Side Story."

NEW YORK -- Rachel Zegler is tomorrow's star, here today.

She went from singing in her bathroom and posting videos on Instagram to performing in a big screen re-make of one of the most acclaimed musicals in history, and the man who directed the new version of "West Side Story" definitely approves.

"She's extraordinary," Steven Spielberg told me at the film's New York City premiere.

"She can do anything," agreed Ariana DeBose, who plays her old sister Anita in the film. "She's very young. She's gotten a lot, a lot very quickly, and yet she just handles it with the grace of someone who's been doing this for like 20 years."

MORE: Newcomer Rachel Zegler shines in Spielberg's 'West Side Story'

Sandy Kenyon spoke with newcomer Rachel Zegler about the premiere of "West Side Story" and her breakout role as Maria.

Spielberg explained Rachel was discovered in her hometown of Clifton, NJ. "A junior in high school. She sent her tape in, and it was just one tape along with 35,000 other tapes that were sent in just for consideration."

Ansel Elgort plays opposite Rachel as Tony who is in love with her character of Maria and caught between two gangs, one white, the other Puerto Rican, in a time of great change in NYC half a century before Rachel was born.

"That was a long time ago," I observed as I asked her how she came to an understanding about this bygone era.

"We were given such incredible resources," she responded. "Steven had put together panels of people who had actually lived in San Juan Hill which is the collection of blocks that became Lincoln Center."

The site was used in the original movie after most of the residents had been displaced and before Lincoln Center was built.

The link between then and now is provided by one of the stars of the original. Rita Moreno was the first, and so far, only Latina ever to earn an Oscar for acting, thanks to playing Anita in the original.

THE SITDOWN | Rita Moreno's 60-year 'West Side Story' journey

In the new version she plays, Valentina, a role created just for her by scriptwriter Tony Kushner.

Via Zoom Moreno told me she is, "a very different character from Anita. This woman is very still, and has a sense of dignity she knows what she's talking about."

"West Side Story" is from 20th Century Studios, owned by Disney, which is the parent company of this ABC station.