Do The Cast Members of The “West Side Story” Remake Measure up to the Original?
West Side Story is a classic movie/musical that is loved by many. On December 10, 2021 the remake hit theaters leaving some people buzzing with delight and others severely disappointed. While the 2021 remake was worth watching, nothing will compare to the original West Side Story movie produced in 1961.
The 2021 Remake stars Ansel Elgort as Tony. However, this Tony did not live up to the beloved 1961 version played by Richard Bymer. Although the 2021 Tony had more of an edge to him regarding his prison storyline, the 1961 Tony had an innocence to him that makes it hard for viewers not to fall in love with. I like that the 2021 Tony had more of a developed character than before but in terms of who played the part better, Richard Bymer will always be number one. I have to say, the 2021 Tony wasn’t as good as he could’ve been, and I was disappointed.
As for Maria, both actresses did a phenomenal job. I feel as though the 2021 Maria, played by Rachel Zegler, gave a more convincing performance of the role than Natalie Wood. Due to the fact that the singer in the 1961 version of West Side Story wasn’t the actual actress, the 2021 Maria was much more enjoyable to hear sing. Another big alteration to the 2021 Maria was that she was Puerto Rican. This representation is important to our understanding of the story and her portrayal is therefore more believable. Overall, both actresses did a great job, but I liked the 2021 version better because she seemed more around her age and gave more of a persuasive performance.
When it comes to Riff, the answer for me is simple. The 2021 version of Riff, played by Mike Faist, exceeded my expectations and he truly made the character his own. I feel as though the 2021 version of Riff is more memorable because of his added backstory, and that his singing, dancing, and acting was overall much better than the performance given by Russ Tamblyn in 1961. Without a doubt, the 2021 version of Riff was stellar because Mike Faist truly embodied the role of Riff.
It’s hard to say which version of Anita I liked more. Both versions of Anita, are played by well known actresses and did an amazing job in their performances. The 1961 version, played by Rita Moreno, was an iconic role of hers but Ariana DeBose lived up to it in her performance of the 2021 version. I think that both actresses gave fantastic performances, were truly authentic in their acting, and had amazing singing and dancing skills. Because both versions were so great in different ways, this one is a toss up.
After finding out that Rita Moreno would be cast in the 2021 West Side Story remake, fans rejoiced. Moreno was in the original adaptation and Stephen Speilberg created a special role just for her; Valentina. Valentina is the widow of Doc, played by Ned Glass in the 1961 version. Doc was the owner of the Jets hangout spot, a local candy shop. However, his role had been removed from the movie and Valentina had been put in his place. While his name was mentioned in the movie a time or two, fans were ecstatic by the return of Moreno. In my opinion, I think that Valentina was a great addition to the movie and made the movie that much more special. I also believe that because her character is Puerto Rican, she helps bridge the divide between the Jets and the Sharks by them all going to Valentina’s candy store. For me, Valentina’s character was better than Doc’s.
One of the most significant changes to the 2021 characters in West Side Story is the character Anybodys. In the 1961 film, Anybodys, played by Susan Oakes, is more of a Tomboy who isn’t accepted by the Jets because she’s a girl. In the 2021 remake, Stephen Speilberg made the decision of turning the character Anybodys, into a transgender man. Anybodys is played by non binary actor Iris Menas and some people are not happy about this change. As for me, I feel as though this new character plot took away from the original story and the characters. I do like to see transgender representation, however I don’t think that this movie was the right fit for this revelation. Because both actors and characters are so different, there’s no saying who was better for this one.
Overall, both the 2021 and 1961 film of West Side Story have their pros and cons. Because technology and people have evolved so much in the past 60 years, I feel that Stephen Speilberg had a lot more tools to create this piece. The 2021 remake was about more than just Maria and Tony’s love story. We got more insight into Tony’s life before Maria and how altered Maria’s life became because of him. This new revival is giving the newer generations the opportunity to fall in love with a classic again.