Rita Moreno, who won a Best Supporting Actress Oscar for her performance in 1961's West Side Story, has been cast in Steven Spielberg's upcoming remake of the hit musical. At one point, the legendary helmsman was eyeing a possible spring 2019 start date for Indiana Jones 5, but that Lucasfilm project was recently delayed to 2021 as Jonathan Kasdan rewrites the script. With an opening in his schedule, Spielberg had the opportunity to turn his attention to one of his several other projects in-development, with West Side Story ultimately winning out.
Slowly but surely, the cast for this update is starting to come together. If reports pan out, the new West Side Story will be something of a Baby Driver reunion, with Ansel Elgort and Eiza Gonzalez in line to play Tony and Anita, respectively. Of course, there are plenty of other roles left to fill, and now Spielberg's landed a big name for one of them.
According to Deadline, Moreno will portray the role of Valentina in Spielberg's West Side Story and work behind-the-scenes as an executive producer. In a statement, Spielberg described the character as an "original role" for the actress and expressed enthusiasm for the development. Deadline notes Valentina is a "reconveived and expanded version" of the original's Doc, who owned the corner shop where Tony worked.
Moreno's casting signifies a key deviation from the source material; in the 1961 film, Doc was portrayed by Ned Glass, so Spielberg is not only gender-swapping the character, but also changing the ethnicity. It's refreshing to see Spielberg is going this route. As acclaimed as the original West Side Story is (it won 10 Oscars, including Best Picture), it was a product of a (very) different era in Hollywood and has since received criticism for whitewashing some noteworthy roles. Ideally, this is just the first step in ensuring Spielberg's take has an appropriately diverse and talented ensemble, and it will be interesting to see what other differences are present in his version. Obviously, the core story beats will likely remain the same, but similar to Bradley Cooper's A Star is Born, there's an opportunity to mix things up and provide a fresh take on an old tune. A filmmaker as gifted as Spielberg surely wouldn't make a mere carbon copy, so there are likely more changes on the way.
Production on West Side Story is scheduled to commence next summer, though no release date for the project has been set. Depending on how quickly the film comes together (remember, Spielberg got The Post completed in a matter of months), it could very well be ready for a late 2019 premiere, placing it right in the thick of awards season. Distributor Twentieth Century Fox will likely be a formal member of the Disney family by the time West Side Story is done, but given the pedigree involved, the studio will definitely want it in theaters as soon as possible to reap whatever benefits (commercial and critical) that'll come with it.