Steven Spielberg casts unknown NJ teen Rachel Zegler in ‘West Side Story’

Rachel Zegler, a 17-year-old high school student from Clifton, beat out 30,000 hopefuls for the coveted role in Spielberg's remake of the 1961 classic.

Veteran performer Rita Moreno will play Valentina, an expanded version of the character Doc, the owner of the store in which Tony works.

'West Side Story was the first musical I encountered with a Latina lead character.

"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", he added.

The self-described "theatre kid" has more than 83,000 subscribers on her YouTube channel, where she posts videos singing today's hits, Broadway favorites and throwback songs from bands like Queen.

Zegler joins a quartet of Latinx actors who will be playing key members of the Sharks, with three other members being portrayed by Broadway stars: Tony victor David Alvarez will play Maria's brother Bernardo, Tony nominee Ariana DeBose will play Anita, and Josh Andres Rivera will play Chino.

Added Zegler: "I am so thrilled to be playing the iconic role of Maria alongside this wonderful cast".


Zegler, 17, will star as the Puerto Rican girl who falls in love with white New Yorker Tony in the Romeo and Juliet-inspired musical with music by Leonard Bernstein and Stephen Sondheim.

The 1961 film adaptation won 10 Oscars, including Best Supporting Actress for Moreno, now 86, Best Picture and Best Director.

Zegler may be a newcomer, but she already has a few famous fans - some of whom tweeted their congratulations Monday after the news became public.

The role of Maria was originally played by Hollywood star Natalie Wood.

Zegler wrote, "As a Colombian-American woman growing up in this day and age, strong roles like Maria are so important".

Spielberg's adaptation of the film is set to start production this summer. Munich and Lincoln scribe Tony Kushner is adapting the play's book for the screen, however the original soundtrack and late-1950s setting are set to remain.

Steven Spielberg's West Side Story cast is slowly beginning to come into focus.


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