'West Side Story': 9 Things to Know Before You Watch

Get ready for the biggest movie musical of the year, "West Side Story," and find out the 9 things you need to know before you go.

Jesse Conner

By Jesse Conner

West Side Story: 9 Things to Know Before You Watch

© 20th Century Studios / Courtesy Everett Collection

Without a doubt, you've heard of the legendary play "West Side Story" inspired by Shakespeare's "Romeo and Juliet." And most of you are probably also aware of the original 1961 film adaptation. Well, from what we've been hearing so far, this year's adaptation of "West Side Story" may be the best one yet! It's still fairly early to make the comparison. But even on its own this is quite the feat. There's a lot of love and tragedy in this new film that'll have you dancing in your seat until you're eventually sitting at the edge of it. Though you may be tempted to watch the original film, if you haven't already, hold off and save all the surprises for this one. But, to make sure you're still ready for this movie musical, here are the 9 things you need to know before you watch "West Side Story."

  • 1

    Directed by Steven Spielberg

    West Side Story: 9 Things to Know Before You Watch

    © 20th Century Studios / Courtesy Everett Collection

    The first thing you need to know about "West Side Story" is that "E.T." director Steven Spielberg tries his luck at directing a musical for the first time in his long and successful career. With so many iconic movies that make up Spielberg's filmography, you might be somewhat surprised to learn this fact. He's directed plenty of films that were later turned into musicals. But the closest we've seen him get to a musical number was in his cameo in "Austin Powers Goldmember." So, we're ecstatic to hear that Spielberg's first musical has been received well so far.

  • 2

    Set in New York City in the '50s

    West Side Story: 9 Things to Know Before You Watch

    © 20th Century Studios / Courtesy Everett Collection

    Many members of the cast have described New York as one of the main characters in this film. And we wholeheartedly agree. The city plays into this story so much, taking place during the 1950s in the slums of New York. At that time, it was much less diverse and accepting than it is today. Then and now, though, New York is a treasure trove for cinematography. And Spielberg certainly tries to capture the essence of this city as much as possible.

  • 3

    Rita Moreno Returns, But Not as Anita

    West Side Story: 9 Things to Know Before You Watch

    © 20th Century Studios / Courtesy Everett Collection

    Rita Moreno, the original leading lady who portrayed the character Anita in the 1961 film, joins the new cast in a different role. Her new character, Valentina, acts as the film's mentor similar to that of Doc, the drugstore owner from the original film. This year actually marks the 60th anniversary of the original film. Though it might seem unlikely, it's possible that Moreno's role as Valentina could earn the Oscar-winning actress another award in this second film adaptation of the play.

  • 4

    Ansel Elgort Plays Tony

    West Side Story: 9 Things to Know Before You Watch

    © 20th Century Studios / Courtesy Everett Collection

    "Baby Driver" star Ansel Elgort sings and dances his way through this film as the leading man, Tony. Based on Elgort's experience, we wouldn't have pegged him as the singing/dancing type. But we do recall him showing off his vocals on The Late Late Show with James Corden while promoting "Baby Driver" with Jamie Foxx. And if Spielberg gave him the thumbs up, that's good enough for us.

  • 5

    Rachel Zegler Plays Maria

    West Side Story: 9 Things to Know Before You Watch

    © 20th Century Studios / Courtesy Everett Collection

    Newcomer Rachel Zegler is the one to watch. She went from playing Maria at a summer theater camp to being Maria in Steven Spielberg's "West Side Story." It's a huge risk to cast a complete unknown with no experience for such a huge role. But it seems to be paying off as we've only heard good things about her performance. Glowing reviews suggest she may win an Oscar, and she's already booked some big films in 2023. She'll be featured in DC's sequel "Shazam! Fury of the Gods." And she'll be playing Snow White in Disney's live-action "Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs."

  • 6

    The Choreography Is Out of This World

    West Side Story: 9 Things to Know Before You Watch

    © 20th Century Studios / Courtesy Everett Collection

    With such an epic movie musical like this, you can assume that every new setting comes with a new dance number. And in this film, the carefully executed choreography is everything. Whether the rival gangs are fighting, hanging amongst themselves, or just attending a dance, expect them to have some rhythm, and complex choreography, in their steps.

  • 7

    Includes Spanish without Subtitles

    West Side Story: 9 Things to Know Before You Watch

    © 20th Century Studios / Courtesy Everett Collection

    One of the things to know about "West Side Story" is that Spielberg has made the decision to incorporate Spanish language, but without offering subtitles. Spielberg explains, "I felt that subtitling the Spanish was disrespectful to the second language of this country. It would make English the dominant language, because then there would be two being spoken: the English by the characters speaking and the English that would [be subtitled] underneath the spoken Spanish words. It was out of complete respect, to give dignity where dignity is earned and deserved to be given.” The majority of the film is in English. But if you have the time, you may want to brush up on your Spanish before you go.

  • 8

    Get Ready for A Lot of Singing

    West Side Story: 9 Things to Know Before You Watch

    © 20th Century Studios / Courtesy Everett Collection

    One of the biggest compliments that's been attributed to the film is around the singing performances from the cast. Across the board, critics have said that the stars of the film belt out every number to perfection. It's one thing to sing. And it's another to dance. But when you can combine them and receive positive reviews, then you're ready for Broadway.

  • 9

    It's Still the Jets Versus the Sharks

    West Side Story: 9 Things to Know Before You Watch

    © 20th Century Studios / Courtesy Everett Collection

    The biggest theme you'll find in the story is the age-old strife of us versus them. In this case the Jets facing off against the Sharks equates to young white men that grew up in a poor neighborhood versus young Latino men that have moved into the area to make a better life for themselves in the U.S. The Jets don't want their way of life to change. And they see the Sharks coming into their community as part of that change. Given America's current divisions, it's a conflict that's as timely as ever.

West Side Story Poster

West Side Story

PG-13

Musical

December 10, 2021

Jesse Conner

Jesse is a writer and content manager for Noovie. When he's not working, he's on the beach playing volleyball.

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