West Side Story: Spielberg Casts High Schooler Rachel Zegler as Maria (Playd by Natalie Wood)

High-schooler Rachel Zegler, who’s 17, will play Maria in Spielberg’s highly anticipated remake of  the 1961 Oscar winning West Side Story.

Photo: Rita Moreno, Oscar winner, in the original West Side Story musical movie, in 1961.

Ansel Elgort as Tony

She will make her film debut opposite Ansel Elgort as Tony.  Elgort, who is 24, is best known for The Divergent film series, The Fault in Our Stars, and of course, Baby Driver.

The original film, which is terrific on many levels (such as Robbins’ choreography), has always suffered from the (mis)casting of the two romantic leads: Caucasian Natalie Wood, who was 23, and could not sing (she was poorly dubbed by Marnie Nixon) as Maria, and Richard Beymer, who was not compelling or erotic enough as Tony.

Read Our Review of the 1961 West Side Story, directed by Robert Wise and Robbins

Oscar: Best Picture–West Side Story (1961)

Broadway veteran Ariana DeBose is cast as Anita and David Alvarez as Bernardo. Theater performer Josh Andrés Rivera plays Chino, Maria’s boyfriend.

Spielberg has already cast Rita Moreno as Valentina, a reconceived and expanded version of the character of Doc, the owner of the corner store in which Tony works.  Moreno, who won a Supporting Actress Oscar for playing Anita in the 1961 Oscar winning film, is also exec-producer on the remake.

Principal shooting of the new West Side Story begins in the summer of 2019.

“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,” Spielberg said. “I’m so happy that we’ve assembled a cast that reflects the astonishing depth of talent in America’s multifaceted Hispanic community. 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.”

The casting team for the remake put out a call online for Latin actors that received over 30,000 submissions. Zegler saw the notice on Twitter and submitted a video of herself singing “Tonight” and “Me Siento Hermosa” (“I Feel Pretty”).

“I am so thrilled to be playing the iconic role of Maria alongside this amazing cast,” said Zegler. “‘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.”

The film is adapted for the screen from the original 1957 Broadway musical, which was the basis for the 1961 movie. The play was inspired by William Shakespeare’s “Romeo and Juliet” and set in a New York neighborhood and focused on the rivalry between two gangs.

West Side Story won 10 Oscars, including best picture. Natalie Wood played the role of Maria in the movie.

Spielberg, Kevin McCollum, and Kristie Macosko Krieger produce the remake to be released by Fox.

The news was first reported by Deadline Hollywood.