‘West Side Story’ team brings authenticity to timeless romance – The Hollywood Reporter

Finally when the audience saw West story, one of the long-awaited passionate projects of director Steven Spielberg, the cast and production team promises to bring more than all that is already loved about romantic musical work. classic.

“This doesn’t go too far from what we love and cherish West story, but it is changing some things that probably should never have been done in the first season and updating things to be more true to what happened in the 1950s and being Puerto Rican,” said Isabelle. Ward, who plays Tere, one of the Shark girls, tells The Hollywood Reporter at the film’s New York premiere on Monday night.

On the Jazz carpet at Lincoln Center, other cast members and key members of the creative team, including screenwriter Tony Kushner confirmed that he and Spielberg did not want to separate from the film’s timeless narrative. and “never thought of a job” [West Side Story] more immediate, like setting it up in the 21st century.” Instead, they sought to create a film that glorified West storyBroadway roots, the high points of cinema predecessors and the Puerto Rican diaspora through a timeless production with a more authentic lens.

To do this, the group engaged in a carefully choreographed song and dance, like the ones you’ll see in the movies, impacting everything from the lines and costumes to the choreography and music monitoring. According to actor David Alvarez, an expanded script would give the film’s characters – especially Tony and María – more development, and thus the opportunity to explore more deeply their motives.

“This part really elaborates on the characters and where they come from, who they are and why they have to go through what they have to go through,” he explains.

While that’s certainly true of the Sharks, it also applies to the Jets, according to Alvarez, who Kushner calls “a bunch of thugs and racists.”

Kushner said that he approached the story of the white male gang in the film as a place where “there are no good people on either side, as our previous Nightmare in the White House said.” Instead, the jets are very young, which ultimately leaves them space to be acquired in the end. So, similar to his decision to focus more on themes of xenophobia and racism, he chose to explore how poverty and class also impact this group. .

“The Sharks are people trying to find their way to the United States, trying to find a home here. The Jets are a small group of racists and [Leonard] Bernstein, [Stephen] Sondheim, [Arthur] Laurents and [Jerome] Robbins knows it,” Kushner said CHEAP. “But because it’s also a story about poverty, one of the things – that doesn’t excuse what happened to the Jets, but explains part of their behavior – is that they’re sugar rats. city. They live in gutters, they’re dire. If you listen to Officer Krupke’s lyrics, they’ll be kids with no home, no family, no parents and then, ‘What a surprise! Surprise!’ they have turned into a swarm of little nightmares. “

While the film won’t shy away from its bigoted notions of white gangs, efforts were made throughout production to avoid having the script stretch them to Puerto Rican characters. In the movie. On her own research, Kushner relied on translators, dialect coaches, a committee of the film’s actors, and more, to ensure that West storyRepresentation of Puerto Rico can be “realistic” and feel as authentic to the core of the community as possible.

It begins, according to the writer, with Julio Monge – a Puerto Rican theater and Broadway dancer, choreographer and director who is also a friend of the writer. Wanting to highlight “Puerto Ricans, the best North American Spaniards” as much as possible, West story The screenwriter said he passed it on to Monge, who “made the first task of translating everything into at least real Spanish and not my Google translation,” before he brought the story to a large Puerto Rican audience. That ultimately resulted in so many different responses — “everyone has different opinions about each line,” he says — that he, along with the film’s dialect coach Victor Cruz, having been a little more focused, form what Kushner calls the “Puerto Rican Talmudic Study Group.”

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

Including several members of the cast — either from Puerto Rican or Puerto Rican — Kushner says they meet weekly and “will have lengthy discussions about each line. We’re phoning their grandma’ and saying, ‘Did you say this? What does that mean?’ And we keep going until we have lines that really feel justifiable and nice. That group kept pondering about stress and other things that some people like me would never understand. “

Ana Isabelle, who plays the female Shark Rosalia and was born and raised in Puerto Rico, was in that group of performers. She said that both Spielberg and Kushner made her experience on the film a “collaborative process”, with Spielberg specifically “caring for the smallest detail in the film”.

“Tony had our opinion and we really went against him. He was like, ‘OK, noted,’ and he really fixed things,” Isabelle said.

Alvarez confirmed the actors were “very much involved,” but so are historians, “whether they were Puerto Rican historians, they were just historians of the New York area during the 1950s. , who can really explain in detail what’s going on between these two different cultures. ”

The results of these efforts may ultimately be most obvious to audiences, but there are other minor modernization efforts that Spielberg undertakes. Paul Tazewell, the musical’s costume designer – and Tony Award winner for his work in the hit Broadway musical Hamilton – told CHEAP that the costume department “worked very closely with the hair designer, Kay [Georgiou]”

The choreography also offers its own signature approach to keeping the heart of the classic with modernized spins. “Justin Peck did a great job of 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 this is much closer,” Kevin Csolak, who plays Shark Diesel, said of the choreography and how Spielberg shot it. “You really get what I think the musical did and what the original movie did. We just zoomed in a little bit.”

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

In addition to changes in what is said and worn, West story’Music supervisor Matt Sullivan notes that there are some slight modifications to what you’ll hear, but not major and only for the original arrangement – at the behest of Spielberg and the Bernstein Estate.

“Of all the elements of West story, Music is truly timeless at its most. So we tried to be as close to the concept of the Broadway musical as possible,” said Sullivan. “There are nuanced things in there that are a little different, but it’s not a different arrangement. It was Bernstein’s staging. ”

Music was ultimately a major theme of the night, with many on the carpet in memory of the story’s lyricist Stephen Sondheim, who passed away on November 26 at 91. But it did come before the premiere. of the film, just a day after the Times Square tribute, that the premiere’s greatest tribute was made by Spielberg himself. In a lengthy statement, the director spoke about Sondheim’s involvement in almost every aspect of the production and the eventual relationship he formed with the late icon.

“It couldn’t be the night we’ve been waiting for so long, given the absence of Stephen Sondheim,” Spielberg told the crowd. “His great work for West story put him on the map for the first time, and launch a career that will completely redraw that map, recreate musicals and theater and create a work that is beyond doubt as immortal as any other. what mortals can do. To borrow what Ben Johnson wrote about Shakespeare, Stephen Sondheim is not of the times but of all times.”

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