Log in
Sign up
Open SidebarMENU
logo
Log in
Sign up

Steven Spielberg’s ‘West Side Story’ is full of Broadway stars: Here are the cast’s theatre credits

December 6, 2021 by Abby Bien
Facebook icon
Share
Twitter icon
Tweet
Email icon
Email

The new West Side Story movie is finally here. Lucky for all of us theatre nerds, nearly every single person in the movie has been on Broadway. Whether you want to prepare before you step into Tony and Maria’s world or you’ve seen the movie and kept asking yourself “where have I seen that person” — this is for you.

The Creative Team

Well, it’s a Broadway musical after all, so of course there has to be some theatre cred behind the scenes. From the dance moves to the script, the heavy hitters on the project know their way around a Broadway production.

Arthur Laurents, Jerome Robbins, Leonard Bernstein, and Stephen Sondheim

We can’t write an article about West Side Story without naming these guys. With a story conceived and choreographed by Jerome Robbins (On the Town, The King and I, Fiddler on the Roof), the original script was written by Arthur Laurents (Gypsy), the music composed by Leonard Bernstein (On the Town), and the lyrics were written by the one-and-only Stephen Sondheim (Gypsy, Company, Sweeney Todd, Into the Woods). The first production opened on Broadway in 1957, and Spielberg’s film is based on this group’s collective brilliance.

Justin Peck

Prior to becoming one of the country’s most prolific new choreographers, Justin Peck was a member of the New York City Ballet. In 2014 however, his talents as a choreographer caught the eyes of basically everyone in the dance world, and he was appointed as the company’s Resident Choreographer. That promotion skyrocketed his creative endeavors and brought him to Broadway in 2018, where he won a Tony Award for Best Choreography for the revival of Carousel.

Tony Kushner

As is the case with most movies based on past films and shows, the script has been rewritten for the 2021 version. Enter: Tony Kushner. Known primarily for his theatrical epic Angels in America, Kushner and Spielberg have been frequent collaborators on screen. It makes sense that the duo would bring their magic to this story, together.

The Cast

You can’t have a movie musical without singers and dancers, and the cast of West Side Story boasts some of Broadway’s best triple threats. But before they were movie stars, they got their start onstage.

Ariana DeBose as Anita

Now, there’s a star! From the moment we saw Ariana DeBose as The Bullet in the original Broadway cast of Hamilton (you can spot her in the Disney+ recording) — we knew she was going places. Actually, prior to Hamilton, DeBose was already making a name for herself. She made her Broadway debut in 2011 in Bring It On, and from 2013 to 2016, she was onstage in Motown, Pippin, and A Bronx Tale.

DeBose’s sparkliest Broadway credit (so far) arrived by way of Donna Summer in 2017. Cast as Disco Donna in the original Broadway production, DeBose’s performance landed her a Tony Award nomination for Best Featured Actress in a Musical.

Since then, she’s transferred her skills to the screen — but don’t worry, her musical chops are still stealing the spotlight. Beyond West Side Story, you can stream DeBose in the movie adaptation of the Broadway musical The Prom and in the theatre-nerd dreamland that is the television show Schmigadoon!.

David Alvarez as Bernardo

If you’re a Billy Elliot fan, you definitely know who David Alvarez is. He was one of the three young actors to star in the titular role of the dance-heavy, Broadway favorite. Alvarez landed the gig after becoming a young ballet standout at the American Ballet Theatre in New York. We’re sorry for burying the lead but here’s the best part of this whole story: Alvarez’s performance — along with the two other Broadway Billys — resulted in him becoming one of the youngest winners of the Tony Award for Best Actor in a Musical, ever, as a teenager.

After Billy Elliot and before West Side Story, Alvarez took some time away from theatre and dance (to join the Army, no less) before returning to the stage in On the Town in 2015. He auditioned for Spielberg while studying at Case Western Reserve and now he’s both our Billy Elliot and our Bernardo. How lucky are we?

Mike Faist as Riff

You didn’t think we could get through an article with a bunch of young guys without a cast member from Dear Evan Hansen appearing, now did you? Mike Faist originated Connor Murphy on Broadway, where his performance earned him a Tony Award nomination for Best Featured Actor in a Musical in 2017.

Prior to helping break box office records with Ben Platt, Faist starred as the very first Morris Delancey in the regional premiere of the stage version of Newsies. His performance was obviously pretty perfect because when the production moved to Broadway in 2012, Faist landed the same role in the original cast.

Rachel Zegler as María

Rachel! Zegler! Is! A! Star! While the movie’s leading lady has yet to be on Broadway (keyword: yet) her YouTube channel is basically one big audition so it felt worthwhile to put her on the list.

When she was in high school in New Jersey (she just graduated in 2019), Zegler’s singing videos started gaining attention online. Maybe you’ve seen her viral video singing from A Star Is Born? It’s no wonder she was cast as the star of nearly every musical her school did, playing Belle in Beauty and the Beast, Ariel in The Little Mermaid, and Fiona in Shrek.

While West Side Story is her first professional acting credit — she auditioned via an open casting call and was selected from over 30,000 submissions — Zegler’s already very busy. She’s finished filming her next role in the Shazam! sequel and will be taking on another iconic story as Snow White in Disney’s upcoming adaptation. Fingers crossed that Broadway is next.

Rita Moreno as Valentina

Rita Moreno is a legend and it’s as simple as that.

First of all, she’s a literal EGOT, which means she’s won an Emmy, Grammy, Oscar, and Tony. She’s also received the Presidential Medal of Freedom, has been awarded a Kennedy Center Honor, and has so many more awards that if we typed them all the list would never end.

Moreno’s Broadway credits include 1965’s Last of the Red Hot Lovers, Gantry in 1970, and her Tony Award-winning performance in The Ritz in 1975.

And of course — Moreno was Anita in the 1961 film adaptation of West Side Story, a standout role that won her the Academy Award for Best Supporting Actress. In Spielberg’s version, she’s is back in the story, but this time as Valentina, a new character fit for an icon like Moreno.

The Jets

When we say that basically every single member of the West Side Story cast has been on Broadway (or off-Broadway or in a professional ballet company) — we mean it. The ensemble of the movie is just as impressive as the stars; here’s a quick rundown of the credits spotted in the Jets.

Ansel Elgort‘s (Tony) very first professional acting credit was off-Broadway in Regrets in 2012. Jess Leprotto (A-Rab), Garrett Hawe (Skink), Skye Mattox (Maxie), Adriana Pierce (Natalie), and Halli Toland (Sweden) were all in the most recent revival of Carousel on Broadway. Ben Cook (Mouthpiece), Myles Erlick (Snowboy), and Julian Elia (Tiger) have all been in productions of Billy Elliot. You’ve maybe seen Iris Menas (Anybodys) as Jo in Jagged Little Pill; John Michael Fiumara (Big Deal) in the ensemble of Hamilton; Paloma Garcia-Lee (Graziella) in Moulin Rouge!; Leigh-Ann Esty (Gussie) in An American in Paris; or Talia Ryder (Tessie) in Matilda. Ben Cook, Kevin Csolak (Diesel), and Jonalyn Saxer (Rhonda) have all been on Broadway in Mean Girls. Daniel Patrick Russell (Little Moly) has been cast in the upcoming revival of The Music Man.

And here’s the best one: Ben Cook, Kevin Csolak, Kyle Coffman (Ice), and Skye Mattox have all appeared on Broadway in a production of West Side Story.

The Sharks

It doesn’t stop with the Jets! The Sharks have just as many impressive members.

Ricardo A. Zayas (Chago) was in Head Over Heels on Broadway, Ricky Ubeda (Flaco) was with a bunch of Jets in Carousel, Adriel Flete (Julito) could be spotted in On Your Feet!, Jacob Guzman‘s (Junior) been in Newsies, Josh Andrés Rivera (Chino) has been a Hamilton ensemble member, and Jennifer Florentino (Montse) is in the new Britney Spears musical Once Upon a One More Time.

And believe it or not, but the Sharks have even more West Side Story pros than the Jets. Carlos E. Gonzolez (Chucho), Yurel Echezarreta (Sebas), Tanairi Sade Vazquez (Charita), and Ilda Mason (Luz) have all been in a Broadway production of the show. And Yesenia Ayala (Clary)? No big deal, but she was New York’s most recent Anita.

The Grown-ups

Spielberg didn’t leave all the theatre talent to the kids.

Brian d’Arcy James (Officer Krupke) is literally Broadway’s Shrek. He’s a three-time Tony Award nominee, and has been in everything from Hamilton — he was the original King George off Broadway! — Something Rotten!, and The Ferryman. He was also in the TV show Smash which is obviously our favorite credit.

While you’ve most likely seen Corey Stoll (Lieutenant Schrank) on screen, did you know he’s a regular in plays throughout NYC, especially when it comes to classics? He’s been on stage indoors in Henry IV, A View from the Bridge, and Macbeth. And outdoors — yes, outdoors — he’s become a Shakespeare in the Park favorite, scoring leading roles in Troilus and Cressida, Julius Caesar, and Othello.

Curtiss Cook (Abe) has been on Broadway in The Lion King and Miss Saigon, Mike Iverson (Glad Hand) originated the only man in the cast of What the Constitution Means to Me, and Yassmin Alers (Lluvia) was the dance captain in the original cast of RENT.

Support all of these wonderful artists and go see their movie.