We’re so rife with reboots and remakes today that it can take a moment to gauge just what Steven Spielberg’s “West Side Story” is. It isn’t a papered-over modernizing or a thinly disguised retread. It’s a feat of reconstruction. Spielberg, Tony Kushner and Steven Sondheim have taken the original play and reworked it from the inside, burrowing into the DNA of “West Side Story” and its characters to recast, reconsider, deepen and clarify one of the 20th century’s most iconic musicals.
It is, I think, a better movie than the 1961 original, by Robert Wise and Jerome Robbins, in almost every respect. The Sharks, the Puerto Rican gang who squares off with the white Jets in 1950s New York, have been a given a new and fuller life, bringing “West Side Story” into balance and righting some of the wrongs of the original in its stereotyped depictions.
Rachel Zegler’s María, Ariana DeBose’s Anita and David Alvarez’s Bernardo are, to remarkable degree, what makes this “West Side Story” sing.