Spielberg’s West Side Story is written by Tony Kushner and stars Ansel Elgort, Rachel Zegler and Ariana DeBose, as well as Rita Moreno, who starred as Anita in the 1961 film. An adaptation of the 1957 musical, West Side Story is inspired by William Shakespeare’s Romeo and Juliet and tells the story of two teenage street gangs of different ethnic backgrounds.
In an interview with ABC’s 20/20, Spielberg explained why he wanted to direct a reimagining, which is also the first musical he has ever directed.
“The score’s been in my life since I was 10 years old. My parents bought the original Broadway cast album for ‘West Side Story,’ and memorized every song, and it was my favorite musical my entire life,” shared Spielberg. As for what the three-time Oscar-winning director wanted to bring to the material, Spielberg said he wanted to bring his love for the legends behind the original 1957 Broadway production – Stephen Sondheim, Leonard Bernstein, Arthur Laurents, and Jerome Robbins.
“I also thought, after 60-something years, the time has come again because this should be shared generationally,” added Spielberg.
Legendary composer Stephen Sondheim, who wrote the lyrics for the original Broadway musical, also made an appearance during the 20/20 special, marking it his very last American television interview before he died on November 26 at the age of 91.
“I was 25 years old, and it was a thrill,” shared Sondheim. “And then to have it come out so well. I’m proud of the show. I learned so much from those three guys. It was a crash course in how to write for musical theater.”
West Side Story marked Sondheim’s Broadway debut 64 years ago. Looking back, Sondheim shared, “Arthur had heard my work. So when they were looking for a lyricist, I happened to run into him at a party. He was telling me, ‘I’m working on this musical of Romeo and Juliet.’ I was not looking for a job. I said, ‘Who’s doing the lyrics?’ He said, ‘Oh, I never thought of you.’ It was more than that. He said, ‘I didn’t much like your music, but I thought your lyrics were really good,’ so I got the job.”
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