The Oscar-winning musical was lauded as the modern-day Romeo & Juliet. The storyline centering on a pair of star-crossed lovers who are caught between rival gangs — and there’s plenty of dancing too!
However, much the original movie was revered, the casting of the Natalie Wood as Maria in 1961 was considered highly controversial. Her acting capabilities were not under question, but Wood is the daughter of Russian immigrants, and in the play-turned-movie, Maria is Puerto Rican.
“They brought an authenticity,” Spielberg told Vanity Fair. “They brought themselves, and everything they believe and everything about them — they brought that to the work. And there was so much interaction between the cast wanting to be able to commit to the Puerto Rican experience. They all represent, I think, a diversity, both within the Puerto Rican, Nuyorican community as well as the broader Latinx community. And they took that seriously.”
For Zegler, the role has been a lifelong dream.
“When I played Maria on stage a few summers ago, I never could have imagined that I’d be taking on the role again in Steven Spielberg’s West Side Story,” she wrote on Instagram.
“As a Colombian-American woman growing up in this day and age, strong roles like Maria are so important. To be able to bring that role to life— a role that means so much to the Hispanic community— is so humbling.”