I’m pained writing this post, but like death and taxes remakes are inevitable. Movies received the remake treatment since the first film was shot in front of a camera, and I expect remakes will continue into the next century. The problem is the movies Hollywood is deciding to “resurrect.” Does anyone REALLY want a remake to West Side Story? No. And based on director Steven Spielberg’s track record of picking projects only to abandon them, I’m hoping this post ends up being just a story on my site. With that, I present to you a rather unique take on a possible remake; one I doubt Hollywood will employ, but at least you get something new rather than the standard A-list take.
The Plot: Two warring gangs, the Puerto Rican “Sharks” and the Caucasian “Jets,” are locked in a struggle for dominance and respect. When Jets member Tony (Richard Beymer) falls for Maria (Natalie Wood), the sister of the Sharks leader, Bernardo (George Chakiris), the two gangs are set for an epic rumble.
The only solid facts released about this remake are that Steven Spielberg is spearheading the effort. As mentioned above, Spielberg has a tendency to pick a property he hopes to direct, wait a few years then abandon it for greener pastures. No offense, Steven but feel free to sit on this for awhile. The only way this remake could benefit, and step away from its more famous forebear, would be changing up the racial dynamics. The 1961 movie is definitely campy in many ways, but a remake could explore the different tensions with race today, as well as actually provide a racially diverse cast without (hopefully) pigeonholing it as a movie for a particular demographic. Since the cast is so large I’m sticking to a few core members for this remake: Tony, Riff, Maria, Bernardo, and Anita.
Originally Played by: Russ Tamblyn
My Suggestion: Elijah Kelley
This is a musical, so I’m not asking for the moon when I stress anyone picked for this role needs to sing and dance. And while not everyone I picked here is known for singing, I have to believe they have the ability to carry a tune. Elijah Kelley’s a phenomenal singer and dancer if you’ve watched the remake of Hairspray, and Riff is a bundle of energy if the acrobatics in “When You’re a Jet” prove anything. Kelley isn’t a known name, so playing Riff would propel his cache and did I mention he can sing and dance?
Other Possibility: I didn’t cast him because I’m unsure if he can sing and dance but Anthony Mackie would be interesting.
Originally Played by: Richard Beymer
My Suggestion: Michael B. Jordan
Michael B. Jordan is the name on everyone’s lips right now and if his work in Fruitvale Station is anything to go off of I think he’d be a far more nuanced Tony than Beymer was. No disrespect, but Beymer played Tony in a near-hysterical manner at times and his performance hasn’t aged as well compared to the other actors (although that’s relative). Jordan is able to give off the romantic vibe (That Awkward Moment is a terrible film, but evidence he can work with lighter fare), although his singing is untested. Either way, Tony is just the cute face by which girls are supposed to swoon; Jordan has the look and the acting skills to transcend the cookie-cutter role.
Other Possibility: I’m drawing a blank on this one. Any other suggestions from the worlds of Broadway or television I’m missing out on for our Tony?
Originally Played by: Rita Moreno
My Suggestion: Rosario Dawson
Rosario Dawson is experienced in musical drama as evidenced by her tackling the role of Mimi in Chris Columbus’ adaptation of Rent. Outside of that, Dawson’s played in drama, musicals, comedies, and romances so she’s certainly proven her ability to play whatever’s required of Anita in this remake. Anita is the role which won Morena her Oscar, as well as marked the occasion as the first time a Latin-American woman received the honor, and Dawson’s career has gone on long enough that playing the character could yield an award.
Other Possibility: My mother suggested Jennifer Lopez, but I think that would have worked ten years ago.
Originally Played by: George Chakiris
My Suggestion: Oscar Isaac
In the interest of full disclosure, Oscar Isaac could play anything and everything for me. With that being said, he’s proven capable of song and dance in several of his movies. George Chakiris’ performance as Bernardo is so hard to touch, and whoever I picked just never felt right to me and I maintain Isaac isn’t perfect for the role, in my opinion. However, who doesn’t think a performance of “America” wouldn’t be kick-ass with him and Dawson?
Other Possibility: Again, no one casting suggestion’s made me say, “They’re perfect!” Feel free to leave alternatives.
Originally Played by: Natalie Wood
My Suggestion: Naya Rivera
I know Rivera played Anita in Glee’s “ode” to West Side Story, and she’d do well if this remake takes several years to get off the ground. I base my recastings on who would work if cameras rolled tomorrow. Rivera is obviously well-versed in musicals and is young enough to get the teen crowd that I’m certain the studios want. Hey, she’s better than a Disney tweener?
Other Possibility: Speaking of tweener’s my mom said they’d probably cast Selena Gomez. God that’s a terrible choice but there you go.
What do you all think? Submit your own cast suggestions in the comments below.
A freelance film critic whose work fuels the Rotten Tomatoes meter. I've been published on The Hollywood Reporter, Remezcla, and The Daily Beast. I've been featured in the L.A. Times. I currently run two podcasts, Citizen Dame and Ticklish Business.