Spielberg's take on this legendary musical is gorgeously shot and brilliantly interpreted, with updates from the 1961 version to be more Latino (if not fully authentically Puerto Rican). The gifted cast is full of musical theater vets, including EGOT winner Rita Moreno as a new character, Valentina. The widow of the original musical/film's drugstore owner Doc, she runs the pharmacy and has taken Tony under her wing since he was released from prison on probation for nearly killing a rival gang member (both details are part of Kushner's substantial additions to the plot, deepening the characterizations). Kushner also adds dialogue between the supporting characters, beefs up the inclusion of Anybodys (Iris Menas) as transgender instead of "just" a tomboy, and tries to deliver the third-act sexual assault at Doc's in a way that forces the Jets to at least acknowledge their crime. The order of the musical numbers changes slightly for the better as well. The showstopper "America" is now set outside, in the Puerto Rican area of the community; "Somewhere" is sung by Valentina (rather than Maria and Tony); and "I Feel Pretty" takes place at the department store where Maria and her friends work the late shift as cleaners.
DeBose's Anita is particularly scene-stealing, with her strong personality, twirly dresses, and big sisterly attitude toward Maria. Faist's Riff is equally as impressive as both a dancer and singer. Zegler is excellent as Maria, who, while still young and naive, is also ambitious and dreams of a future full of opportunity and love. The only weak link in an otherwise perfectly cast film is Elgort; he's tall and handsome like Richard Beymer, but his voice, while better than expected, isn't nearly on the level of his co-stars. Of all the classic songs, the ones that stand out beyond "America" are the "Tonight" quintet; Anita and Maria's heartbreakingly beautiful duet "A Boy Like That/I Had a Love"; and the opening "Jet Song." Oscar-winning cinematographer and longtime Spielberg collaborator Janusz Kaminski firmly roots viewers in the ruins of the New York City neighborhoods that were destroyed to make Lincoln Center. Several of the shots are dazzling, and Justin Peck's choreography pays tribute to Jerome Robbins' without copying it move-by-move. Ultimately, Spielberg's version of West Side Story addresses the whitewashed (or, in Moreno's case, brown-faced) wrongs of the 1961 version. It provides a deeper backstory for the main characters and highlights his ensemble's enormous talent -- but Puerto Rican viewers may still wish it had more authentically represented their culture.