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« Beauty vs Beast: Pre Endgame | Main | 1972: Oversharing with "The Discreet Charm of the Bourgeoisie" »
Monday
Apr222019

West Side Story Casting Pt 2: "When you're a Jet, you're a Jet all the way"

If you missed part 1, The Sharks, that's here

With the casting of Steven Spielberg's remake of West Side Story complete, and planning to shoot this very summer, let's meet the Jets. We've done the research to familiarize you with the new cast which is thankfully extremely heavy with very talented dancers and singers so we hope Steven Spielberg has a heretofore unknown gift for filming big dance heavy musical numbers! Links go to their instagram pages if we could find them...

PRINCIPALS


Ansel Elgort (Tony)
The 25 year old movie star has been threatening to do a movie musical for awhile now (he was once attached to a Hans Christian Anderson biopic that seems to have been trapped in development hell) and is finally getting around to it with West Side Story. Major credits include leading roles in The Fault in Our Stars, Billionaire Boys Club, Baby Driver, and the forthcoming drama The Goldfinch.

Mike Faist (Riff)
Perhaps the most surprising casting announcement was Mike Faist, whose biggest claim to fame is a Tony nomination for originating the role of suicidal Connor Murphy in Dear Evan Hansen. He's literally nothing like Russ Tamblyn physically or emotionally (from what we've seen thus far) so they're apparently going in a much different direction with Riff this time out. He's done a few features and TV shows as well. 

THE JETS


Brianna Abruzzo
She's danced in two touring companies (Anastasia and An American in Paris). West Side Story will be her screen debut (she hasn't done any television work yet either).

 

Kyle Allen 
[UNCONFIRMED: no mention of West Side Story on his instagram] The photo is of a young dancer/actor by this admittedly somewhat generic name who has had two key TV roles very recently (American Horror Story, The Path). If this is the correct Kyle Allen --IMDb doesn't indicate that he's in West Side Story but they're scant with info -- it would be his second theatrical feature film since he also appears in the horror anthology film XX (2017). 

Kyle Coffman
Screen debut. Three Broadway productions to date including the 2009 revival of West Side Story (as A-Rab)

Ben Cook
You've previously seen him in Newsies (the filmed stage show that was streaming recently) and he's currently in the ensemble of Mean Girls, his fourth Broadway show. West Side Story will be his big screen debut but he's done a few guest starring bits on TV.  

Harrison Coll
He's a dancer with New York City Ballet (Trivia alert: Sarah Jessica Parker follows him on Instagram). West Side Story will be his screen debut. Though you can see him as himself in the documentary Ballet Now on Hulu. 

Kevin Csolak
He's been professionally performing (largely guest roles in TV shows Boardwalk Empire, Jessica Jones, Inside Amy Schumer for example) for over a decade now. He actually has the kind of official website that more young actors should have. Very thorough with lots of clips, photos, info. He understudies Aaron Samuels onstage in Mean Girls at the moment, his second Broadway show.

Kellie Drobnick
She's with Twyla Tharp Dance after graduating from Juillard 3 years ago. This will be her screen debut.

Julian Elia (Tiger)
He's been a cast member of a couple of dance-centered TV shows (Isabella Dances Into the Spotlight, The Next Step) but this will be his feature film debut. He was one of the three last Billy Elliotts on Broadway before the show closed seven years ago.

Myles Erlick
This Canadian actor is another Billy Elliott alum from its last months on Broadway. WSS will be his feature debut. He was in the dance reality show The Next Step Live as himself last year. Trivia alert: He was obsessed with the original West Side Story as a kid.

Leigh-Ann Esty & Sara Esty
Twin sisters (we have male twins in the Sharks cast, too, if you remember). Leigh-Ann's been on Broadway in Carousel and Sara in An American In Paris. Sara is a former soloist from the Miami City Ballet as well.

John Michael Fiumara
Another former Newsies cast member.  This will be his screen debut. 

Paloma Garcia-Lee (Graziella)
She's in three episodes of Fosse/Verdon as "Adrienne" on FX (her episodes haven't aired yet). WSS will be her big screen debut.  She's another performer (there's one among the Sharks, too) who is slated to be in Moulin Rouge! this summer on Broadway but we're not sure how that will actually work since West Side Story is also planning on shooting during the summer months.  She's had five previous Broadway shows even though she's only 27. We love the character of Graziella! Do her proud, Paloma. 

Garett Hawe
Four Broadway shows to date including Carousel last season. WSS will be his film debut. He was in the cast of Peter Pan Live! on TV as "Patches"

Patrick Higgins
Couldn't find out anything about this guy other than that he was in a production of Billy Elliott at some point (?) and he's very young. His Instagram has not a single selfie (he's the young guy on the left above, pictured with his dance coach). Aren't actors supposed to be more narcissistic than this? Kidding.

Sean Harrison Jones
He's done shorts and TV but WSS will be his feature debut. He's one of the older Jets in this cast since he's 33.  Judging from his Instagram (Ingmar Bergman, Jimmy Stewart, 20th Century Women, Before Sunrise, Phantom Thread references) he's also a cinephile so we approve. [UNCONFIRMED: Unless this is a different Sean Harrison Jones who is also an actor... there is no reference to West Side Story on the Instagram which is strange since most of the cast members have mentioned it, which is how we're verifying they're the correct people unless they have some obvious connection to the West Side Story team (usually through the choreographer Justin Peck, since IMDb has so little info on the cast.]

Eloise Kropp
She danced in the premiere episode of Fosse/Verdon (we're assuming in the "Big Spender" number). WSS will be her second movie after an indie a handful of years ago. She also played Jennyanndots in the revival of Cats on Broadway two years back, her third Broadway show.

Lauren Leach
No career info found but great photos of her dancing on her Instagram. 

Jess LeProtto
Eight Broadway shows to date including Carousel (There are a lot of Carousel people due to its Tony-winning choreographer Justin Peck who is working on West Side Story) and Barnaby Tucker in the current tour of Hello Dolly! You might have also seen him as a contestant of Season 8's "So You Think You Can Dance". This will be his second film. He recently danced in the romcom  Isn't it Romantic? (2019)

Skye Mattox
Three Broadway shows including Carousel and West Side Story (where she was the replacement for the original Graziella). She also danced in Smash and Fosse/Verdon on TV. This will be her film debut. 

• Ezra Menas
[No info found on IBDb or IMDb or Instagram.]

Adriana Pierce
Queer feminist dancer/choreographer so we like her already. She's been in both Miami City and New York City Ballet and recently danced in Carousel on Broadway. Film debut we believe but this is unconfirmed. She dances \n Fosse/Verdon but doesn't have an IMDb page yet. 

Brittany Pollack
Another Carousel alum and soloist with the New York City Ballet.  

Daniel Patrick Russell
Very young looking Australian actor who recently did an international tour of West Side Story as "Baby John". No page on IMDb or IBDb yet. He does have an official up-to-date website though as all serious non-famous actors should. 

Talia Ryder
Her film debut will be in writer/director Eliza Hittman's third feature (following her breakout with Beach Rats in 2017) which is called Never, Rarely, Sometimes, Always currently in post. Then comes West Side Story. She's been on Broadway once with Matilda, the Musical.


Jonalyn Saxer
Currently in the ensemble of Mean Girls on Broadway as Taylor Wedell (and understudying both lead roles, Cady & Regina). It's her fifth Broadway show. This will be her theatrical feature debut. 

Halli Toland
Two Broadway shows including Carousel as well as the current tour of Cats. Pictured above with her brother.

Maddie Ziegler
Yes, that Maddie Ziegler who came to fame starring in multiple Sia music videos when she was just 11 years old. She's played herself often on dance shows (including Dance Moms when she was just 8 years old) and has appeared in a few films as well. She has 13 million followers on Instagram (!) which is more than any other cast member of West Side Story (even Ansel Elgort). She turns 17 this fall. 

 

NOT JETS BUT THE POLICE WHO FAVOR THEM

Brian D'Arcy James (Sergeant Krupke)
The three time Tony nominee turns 50 this summer. In addition to his very respected Broadway career he's an extremely familiar face from multiple TV and film roles. It's just a shame that Sergeant Krupke doesn't sing because his voice is beautiful.  

• Corey Stoll (Lieutenant Schrank)
Three Broadway shows as well as a Drama Desk nomination for Intimate Apparel in which he co-starred with Viola Davis before they were both famous and now very in-demand film and TV stars. Sadly Corey Stoll has no social media presence because we could always use more staring at his gorgeousness. Major credits include Midnight in Paris, Ant-Man, First Man, Netflix's House of Cards, and HBO's Girls. We've also had the pleasure of interviewing him and seeing him around the Oscar trail

 

Any thoughts after this exhausting coverage of the new cast?  

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Reader Comments (22)

That's a lot of white people!

April 22, 2019 | Unregistered CommenterDavid

Is Talia Ryder not a dead ringer for a young Jennifer Connelly or is it just me?

As for this remake, I'll reserve judgement until it actually comes out but it seems wholly unnecessary.

April 22, 2019 | Unregistered CommenterMDA

Mike Faist was also in Newsies so he probably has the dance chops, but physically he’s different than Russ Tamblyn. I wonder if he can pull off the kind of charismatic performance that Tamblyn did, or maybe they’re going with a different take.

April 22, 2019 | Unregistered CommenterRaul

David -- they are the Jets, which is the white gang... so what else were you expecting ;) ?

April 22, 2019 | Registered CommenterNATHANIEL R

MDA -- there are definitely Connelly-esque things about her, yes, though i wouldn't say Dead Ringer.

April 22, 2019 | Registered CommenterNATHANIEL R

They look a lot younger than the people cast for the Sharks. I'm still not feeling Elgort for Tony. I actually think he's a fine actor, and it's not that there's much to Tony, but it just doesn't seem like a good fit.

April 22, 2019 | Unregistered CommenterVal

I'd still rather invest in a one-man show of Robert de Niro singing the entire musical.

April 22, 2019 | Unregistered Commenterthevoid99

Way too millenial for my taste

April 22, 2019 | Unregistered CommenterJorge

I saw the tour of Hello Dolly recently and Jess LeProtto was amazing! He was one of my favorite things about the show.

April 22, 2019 | Unregistered CommenterBrian

Tangent: there's an upcoming movie called NEVER, RARELY, SOMETIMES, ALWAYS? Please change the name, given the Bill Nighy vehicle SOMETIMES ALWAYS NEVER is still in cinemas. (We will just get confused every time we reflect on 2019/2020.)

April 22, 2019 | Unregistered CommenterTravis C

Why is Corey Stoll fully clothed?

April 22, 2019 | Unregistered CommenterPeggy Sue

NATHANIEL R - I was as surprised as David at the number of white people in the cast, over here in Britland there is a welcome trend to employ more diverse casts in theatre and television. Only last week I saw a production of West Side Story and Riff was played by a black actor.

April 22, 2019 | Unregistered CommenterJoe (UK)

Ansel has ZERO sex appeal and Mike is giving me meth head realness. And I agree that Spielberg is leaning too much on the blanco side (if this is taking place in New York today, the Blatino quotient in the Sharks should be higher). Make it stop, make it stop!

April 22, 2019 | Unregistered CommenterNewMoonSon

Joe (UK) - I'm guessing you saw the Royal Exchange production. I also saw it a couple of weeks ago and loved it.

The REX are really good at ensuring each in house production has a diverse cast, with great instances of gender swapping as well as BAME and disabled actors getting significant opportunities with only the Maxine Peake star-driven changes feeling tokenistic, although I expect that's just because I find her performances grating.

I thought the impact of diverse actors in both the Jets and the Sharks intensified the otherness of immigration rather than racial background. Very much a key talking point in UK politics right now. Perhaps Spielberg and his team want to highlight a white supremicist background which may feel more timely for American/international audiences?

April 23, 2019 | Unregistered CommenterBJT

Joe -- i'm not sure i follow this line of reasoning when it comes to West Side Story. It's a story about prejudice and racism. How exactly would that work if you don't cast with race in mind?

NewMoonSon -- Are you sure its taking place in 2019? I hadn't heard anything about it being contemporary.

BJT -- i'm not sure I like the idea -- no wait, I definitely dont like the idea! -- of changing the text to reflect something other than race and prejudice. You'd be gutting the thing! That's its subject matter. (it's always weird to me that so many people think of Puerto Ricans as immigrants. They're as American as me born in the midwest -- they're literally citizens already). You'd have to change actual songs and lyrics and plot if it stopped being about a white gage versus a Puerto Rican gang. If they're messing with Sondheim's lyrics and Bernstein's genius score (i'd argue the best ever written for musical theater), they should just scrap the whole idea of remaking it.

April 23, 2019 | Unregistered CommenterNATHANIEL R

Hi Nat,

As I remember it the book was unchanged to reflect the casting, however I will confess I'm not hugely familiar with the text.

But simply the act of colour-blind casting impacts the way the audience respond and pick up on the script. It is also worth remembering the immigration debate in the UK, whilst fueled by racist undertones, was brought to the front of political dialogue by white eastern European migrants. The audience are aware of that so in the British context otherness feels better defined by where the characters were born rather than their ethnicity.

Unfortunately the REX rarely discuss their casting decisions and definitely don't contextualise their choices in the durection so it is left to the audience to make those connections. This does mean my conclusins are purely my own and may not be endorsed/encoraged by the REX.

April 23, 2019 | Unregistered CommenterBJT

the sharks win this rumble

April 23, 2019 | Unregistered Commenterpar

Nathaniel: The published reports say "modern update" so I guess it is taking place now.

April 23, 2019 | Unregistered CommenterNewMoonSon

These dancers look so fabulous and I love the choreographer. So there will be something I will swoon over.

Poor Ansel though. I keep thinking of his awful romance in “Drive” where the young woman had no agency and absolutely no reason to be in love with Ansel at all.

Maria, surrounded by that horde of sexy dancers, would far more likely have one of them catch her eye.

Perhaps Maria and Antonia (Toni) would be the central love story.

April 23, 2019 | Unregistered Commenteradri

According to a post by Entertainment Weekly, Tony Kushner is apparently sticking closer to the original Broadway script which is kind of strange to me - while there are some major changes to the book and score (new lyrics for America, a smart decision to switch the order of "Cool" and "Officer Krupke"), I don't really recall that radical a difference between the play and the movie (the movie is superior in my opinion but it doesn't reinvent the wheel - it stays pretty close to the Broadway version). I guess we will need to wait and see but still not sure why they are remaking this film (besides finally having the all the Latino characters actually be portrayed by Latinos).

April 23, 2019 | Unregistered CommenterKP

I'm on team police - if they are revising this lets make the cops gay lovers

April 23, 2019 | Unregistered CommenterJaragon

Is that guy pictured with Halli Toland a model or actor? I feel like I've seen him before. Very handsome.

April 24, 2019 | Unregistered CommenterJen Simons

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