West Side Story Explained: What’s Up With the Ending?

Steven Spielberg fulfilled his lifelong dream by filming the famous Broadway musical. To appreciate the director’s efforts, West Side Story is worth seeing in theaters. The film runs for two and a half hours, which can scare off many viewers, but the production is definitely worth the time spent – minutes fly by unnoticed when musical numbers appear in the tape.

“West Side Story” / West Side Stor

Genre musical, drama
Directed by Steven Spielberg
Cast: Rachel Zegler (Maria), Ansel Elgort (Tony), Mike Feist (Riff), Ariana DeBos (Anita), David Alvarez (Bernardo), Corey Stoll (Lt. Schrank), Brian d’Arcy James (Officer Krapke), Rita Moreno (Valentina), Maddie Ziegler (Velma) and others.
Компании 20th Century Studios, Amblin Entertainment, Amblin Partners
Release year 2021
IMDb site
Where to watch cinemas

The musical “West Side Story” appeared on the theater stage in 1957, it soon became one of the most popular performances on Broadway. In 1961, a Hollywood film adaptation was released, which was very popular (the picture received 3 Golden Globe Awards and 10 Oscar statuettes).

In numerous interviews to coincide with the release of the new film, Spielberg recalls how he first heard the songs from the musical when Steven was only 10 years old. He liked the compositions so much that Spielberg nurtured the idea of ​​his own version of the musical for many years, although he himself was far from musical themes – the director devoted his career to staging and producing adventures, science fiction, film adaptations of historical novels.

And only now, having released about 50 films, Spielberg was able to fulfill his cherished dream. Despite the fact that the COVID-19 epidemic affected cinema attendance, at the end of 2021, the director nevertheless took the risk of presenting a grandiose film that can only be revealed on the big screen in combination with three-dimensional sound.


Work on the musical started even before the start of the pandemic, and the search for actors for the main roles began in 2018. The key male role went to Ansel Elgort – by that time he was already famous for his role in the action movie Baby Driver. The lead female role was taken by aspiring actress Rachel Zegler, who had never acted in films before (and by that time was still in school). After a long period of auditions, Spielberg personally chose the candidacy of Zegler – she fit the description of the main character of Hispanic origin and could perform all the vocal parts.

It is noteworthy that for Steven Spielberg it was important to choose a cast that corresponded to the most important characteristics of the characters. This was not the case in the 1961 film, where younger actors were played by older actors and Puerto Ricans were portrayed by white actors.


Nationality plays a big role in the interpretation of the plot, since West Side Story is a New York interpretation of the play Romeo and Juliet, which takes place in the second half of the 20th century. The descendants of emigrants from Europe live on the Upper West Side, next to them settle Latin Americans who came to the United States quite recently. While they enter into conflicts, trying to take control of the common territory, the quarter is gradually being destroyed. There is about to happen a large-scale restructuring – the old houses will be demolished, and Lincoln Center and a new residential complex will be built in their place, designed for the public with a completely different level of prosperity. In a word, the world around is rapidly changing, but many find a place for themselves only where the old rules are in force, which determine the winner by the use of force.

The film begins with a brawl between two street gangs that takes place in 1957. White guys calling themselves “Rockets” are arguing with “Sharks” – Puerto Ricans. They are dispersed by the police, but the feud flares up again when they all come to the evening dance. At this time, Tony (Ansel Elgort) meets Maria (Rachel Zegler) for the first time – young people fall in love at first sight, but they are forced to hide their sympathy. Tony and Maria belong to different communities, and if someone finds out that a relationship is emerging between them, you should expect trouble. However, the gangs are already starting a big fight, which can end in tragedy if none of them back down.


To create the film, Steven Spielberg invited screenwriter Tony Kushner (they worked together on the dramas Munich and Lincoln). It was important for Spielberg to keep the plot intact, adding a few rethinkings to it. So a non-binary character from the Rocket gang appeared in the musical (because of which the picture was not allowed to be shown in Saudi Arabia, Kuwait, Bahrain, Oman, Qatar and the United Arab Emirates). Also on the set was actress Rita Moreno (one of the few Puerto Rican women who starred in the 1961 Hollywood adaptation of the musical) who sang the song “Somewhere” and took the place of the formerly male pharmacist.

Despite a number of additions, Spielberg managed to retain the most important elements of West Side Story – the songs written by Stephen Sondheim (who died at the age of 91 before the world premiere of the film). Literally every composition sounds majestic and very beautiful, reviving in the atmosphere of bright scenery. What is the ironic “America” ​​worth, which turns into incendiary street dances. Also of no less interest is the humorous confession “Gee, Officer Krupke”, provocatively performed at the police station.


Steven Spielberg handed over the dance production to the young choreographer Justin Peck – he managed to create impressive numbers, in which more than 60 dancers and about 150 extras took part. Each dance is made special by theatrical costume designer Paul Tazewell, who paid special attention to the visual characteristics of the gangs (the Rockets wear cool gray-blue tones, while the Sharks prefer warm colors, so their clothes have burgundy-red elements).


Undoubtedly, the new “West Side Story” is one of the most grandiose and impressive films of the year. Literally every musical number from the musical will enchant with its atmosphere, fully revealing the characters and experiences of the main characters (not to mention the scenery illuminated by neon signs).

The film is perceived in one breath, but when the music stops, it sometimes loses its fascination (trying to convey as much street drama as possible in dialogues that sound less convincing than the vocal parts). This is an insignificant minus, which is forgotten after watching – after all, the scale and skill of the production crowd out all the small nuances of the musical.

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Pros: staging choreography in an atmosphere of bright scenery; musical numbers from the original musical; a good cast, in which there are no inconsistencies; grandiose scale Cons: when musical numbers give way to dialogues, the plot sometimes loses its fascination Conclusion:

West Side Story is a real treat for musical lovers. For the film to be fully revealed, it is worth seeing it on the big screen.

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