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17-year old Rachel Zegler to make her film debut as Maria in Steven Spielberg's West Side Story

Photo: Silver Screen Collection (Getty Images)

As a nod to her Oscar-winning turn as Anita in 1961's West Side Story, Rita Moreno will executive produce and star in Steven Spielberg’s forthcoming riff on the iconic musical. Having her expertise will be key, one imagines, as Deadline reveals that the majority of the film’s leads will be Hollywood newcomers.

Rachel Zegler, a 17-year old out of New Jersey, is set to star as Maria, the tragic, tuneful role made famous by Natalie Wood. Zegler, who learned of the role via Twitter and submitted a video of her singing “Tonight” and “Me Siento Hermosa” (“I Feel Pretty”), was chosen from a pool of more than 30,000 hopefuls. She’ll star opposite Baby Driver’s Ansel Elgort, who, as a former gang member in love with the sister of his one-time rival, will serve as the Romeo to her Juliet. No pressure.


Spielberg has also found his Anita in Ariana DeBose, a Broadway mainstay and Tony Award nominee who starred in the original cast of Hamilton. Tony winner David Alvarez will step into the role of Bernardo, Maria’s brother and leader of the Sharks, while Josh Andrés Rivera, a veteran of the Hamilton national tour, will play his gun-toting pal, Chino.

“When we began this process a year ago, we announced that we would cast the roles of Maria, Anita, Bernardo, Chino and the Sharks with Latina and Latino actors. I’m so happy that we’ve assembled a cast that reflects the astonishing depth of talent in America’s multifaceted Hispanic community,” Spielberg said. “I am in awe of the sheer force of the talent of these young performers, and I believe they’ll bring a new and electrifying energy to a magnificent musical that’s more relevant than ever.”

Zegler, meanwhile, had this to say about her big break. “I am so thrilled to be playing the iconic role of Maria alongside this amazing cast. West Side Story was the first musical I encountered with a Latina lead character. As a Colombian-American, I am humbled by the opportunity to play a role that means so much to the Hispanic community.”

West Side Story will dance its way into production this summer.


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Randall Colburn

Randall Colburn is The A.V. Club's Internet Culture Editor. He lives in Chicago, occasionally writes plays, and was a talking head in Best Worst Movie, the documentary about Troll 2.