Newcomer Rachel Zegler Lands Maria Role in Steven Spielberg’s “West Side Story”

Rachel Zegler is headed to the West Side

The 17-year-old Colombian American actress/singer,New Jersey High School studentand Hollywood newcomer has landed the lead role of Maria in Steven Spielberg’s West Side Story.

Rachel Zegler

Zegler, who beat out more than 30,000 people from around the world, will make her film debut opposite Ansel Elgortas Tony.

Rounding out the principal Shark roles are Broadway veterans Ariana DeBose as Anita and David Alvarezas Bernardo. Theater performer Josh Andrés Rivera has been cast as Chino.

Spielberg and his team were committed to finding the best actors within the Puerto Rican as well as the broader Latinxcommunity. The team has been conducting research and having conversations with Hispanic heritage and advocacy groups. In December 2018, Spielberg and Tony Kushner, who is adapting West Side Story, sat with professors and students at the University of Puerto Rico(Universidad de Puerto Rico – Río Piedras) to learn more about performing arts on the island.  The production team maintains a dialogue with the University and Puerto Rican filmmakers there.

The new castmembers join Rita Moreno, who won an Oscarfor her portrayal of Anita in the 1961 movie, who will play Valentina, a reconceived and expanded version of the character of Doc, the owner of the corner store in which Tony works. Moreno also serves as executive producer. 

“When we began this process a year ago, we announced that we would cast the roles of Maria, Anita, Bernardo, Chino and the Sharks with Latina and Latino actors. I’m so happy that we’ve assembled a cast that reflects the astonishing depth of talent in America’s multifaceted Hispanic community,” said Spielberg. “I am in awe of the sheer force of the talent of these young performers, and I believe they’ll bring a new and electrifying energy to a magnificent musical that’s more relevant than ever.”

“I simply cannot wait to get on set to work with this group of young actors,” said Moreno. “What an ensemble, and I look forward to passing the baton to this next generation of Sharks!”

Zegler saw the notice on Twitterback in January 2018 for Latinx actors and submitted a video of herself singing “Tonight” and “Me Siento Hermosa” (“I Feel Pretty”).

“I am so thrilled to be playing the iconic role of Maria alongside this amazing cast,” said Zegler. “West Side Story was the first musical I encountered with a Latina lead character. As a Colombian-American, I am humbled by the opportunity to play a role that means so much to the Hispanic community.”

DeBose, who was nominated for a Tony Award in 2018 for her portrayal of Donna Summerin Summer: The Donna Summer Musical, will play Anita, the role made famous on film by Moreno. DeBose’s other Broadway credits include the original cast of HamiltonA Bronx Tale: The MusicalPippinMotown: The Musical and Bring It On: The Musical. Her screen debut came in 2009 as a competitor on So You Think You Can Dance.

“I’m honored to follow in the footsteps of the remarkable women who have played Anita – including Chita Rivera and, of course, the incomparable Rita Moreno,” said DeBose. “I relate so strongly to Anita – a strong Puerto Rican woman who came to New York in search of opportunity – and I feel so fortunate for the chance to work with this amazing cast and creative team.”

Alvarez, who won a Tony in 2009 for originating the title role in Billy Elliot: The Musical, will play Bernardo, Maria’s brother and the leader of the Sharks. Following his appearance in Billy Elliot, Alvarez served in the U.S. Army’s 25th Infantry Division, before returning to Broadway in 2014 to join the company of On the Town.

“My parents emigrated from Cuba with no connections, knowing no English, driven only by the hope of a better life. I know how challenging the decision was for them, and I see a lot of that internal conflict in Bernardo,” said Alvarez. “I have dreamt of playing this part since I first saw the original film, and I am so grateful for the chance to bring my own perspective and journey to this role – as an artist, a Veteran and a Latino – and to work with this incredible cast to breathe new life into these characters’ experiences.”

Rivera – an actor, singer and dancer who most recently appeared in the first national tour of Hamilton – will play the role of Chino.

West Side Story is the dream for any performer, and to tackle it with this creative team is truly a once-in-a-lifetime chance,” said Rivera. “I feel very fortunate to be able to portray the Nuyorican experience alongside these amazingly talented actors. I’m confident Puerto Ricans on and off the island will see ourselves reflected in this project.”

West Side Story will be produced and directed by Spielberg from a script by Oscar-nominated screenwriter and Pulitzer Prize-winning playwright Tony Kushner. The film will be adapted for the screen from the original 1957 Broadway musical, which was written by Arthur Laurentswith music by Leonard Bernstein, lyrics by Stephen Sondheim and concept, direction and choreography by Jerome Robbins. Also leading the production are Tony Award-winning producer Kevin McCollumand Academy Award-nominated producer Kristie Macosko Krieger.

West Side Story will be released by Twentieth Century Fox. Filming is slated to start in the summer of 2019.

Additional casting announcements will be made in the coming weeks, specifically in regards to The Sharksand The Jets.

Wilmer Valderrama Acquires Rights to Dave Gutierrez’s WWII Book “Patriots from the Barrio”

It’s a Patriots mission for Wilmer Valderrama

The 37-year-old Colombian and Venezuelan American actor/producer and former That ’70s Show star and his WV Entertainment have acquired film and television rights to Patriots from the Barrio, Dave Gutierrez’s 2014 book that delves into the history of a segregated U.S. Army combat unit comprised entirely of Mexican Americans from South Texas that was part of the first division to set foot in Europe in World War II.

Wilmer Valderrama

Gutierrez’s book came about while he was researching a relative, Ramon G. Gutierrez, who during the war was captured and escaped twice, both times able to make it back across Allied lines. He later received the Silver Star and three Purple Hearts, and the Soviet Union gave him the Order of the Patriotic War. His Company E in the 36th Division fought in Italy at San Pietro in the Liri Valley, and in 1944 was nearly wiped out in the Battle of Ripaldo River, one of the U.S. Army’s biggest losses of WWII.

“During Hispanic Heritage Month, this story is especially timely, and I’m honored as a proud Latin American to amplify the courage and contributions of these incredible men,” Valderrama said.

Valderrama, who joined as a regular on CBSNCIS last year, also has the animated film Charming coming next year on which his WV Entertainment serves as a producer.

Pope Francis Attracts Record-Breaking Crowd in the Philippines

There’s no denying Pope Francis’ influence in the Philippines…

The 76-year-old Argentine pontiff attracted an estimated 6 million people, who braved steady rain on Sunday to catch a glimpse of the leader of the Catholic Church at Manila’s Rizal Park, on his final full day in the island nation.

Pope Francis in Manila

The turnout breaks the record set by the last pontiff to say mass in the same venue – Pope John Paul II in 1995, when five people million attended, according to the Vatican.

Pope Francis dedicated his final homily of his tour to the young and urged protection for children so they aren’t tempted by sin or the devil or distracted by “promises of ephemeral pleasures, superficial pastimes.”

“We need to care for our young people, not allowing them to be robbed of hope and condemned to a life on the streets,” he said.

The Mass took place on the third and final day of the pope’s visit to the Philippines, whose roughly 80 million Catholics comprise about 7% of the world’s total.

The pontiff arrived Sunday on a popemobile based on the design of a jeepney, the modified U.S. Army World War II jeep that is a common means of public transport in the Philippines, wearing the same plastic yellow rain poncho handed out to the masses during his visit to the central Philippine city of Tacloban a day earlier.

The pontiff was forced to cut his trip short to Tacloban — hard-hit by Typhoon Haiyan in 2013 — ahead of the approaching Tropical Storm Mekkhala. About 150,000 people, including survivors of the typhoon and of the earthquake on the island of Bohol that killed more than 200 people in October 2013, braved the approaching storm to attend Mass with the pope.

The pope’s tour, which also took him to Sri Lanka, was his second trip to Asia in five months, in a nod to the region’s growing importance for the Catholic Church as it faces declining support in Europe and the United States.

It was also the fourth papal visit to the Philippines, and the rapturous reception given to him throughout his stay cemented the nation’s status as the Church’s Asian role model.

Aguilar to be Honored at the Hispanic Heritage Awards

Pepe Aguilar is preparing to celebrate an extra special Hispanic Heritage Month…

The 46-year-old Mexican American singer-songwriter is among the Latino luminaries being feted at this year’s Hispanic Heritage Awards on September 18.

Pepe Aguilar

The Hispanic Heritage Foundation has announced that Aguilar, among others, will be honored at the Warner Theatre in Washington, D.C., with PBS airing the awards show as a one-hour special on September 29.

Aguilar, a four-time Grammy winner and four-time Latin Grammy winner, will receive the Master of Arts award in recognition of his thriving career in the music industry.

In addition to Aguilar, the 2014 honorees include the Hayden High School Robotics Team (Education), Bernie Williams (Sports), Carlos Vives (Legend), Henry R. Munoz III (Leadership), Zoe Saldana (Vision), Rep. Ruben Hinojosa (Science Technology Engineering Math) and a special recognition for the 65th Infantry Regiment of the U.S. Army, “The Borinqueneers.”

“The Hispanic Heritage Foundation is proud to honor yet another inspiring group of Latino leaders,” said Jose Antonio Tijerino, president and CEO of the Hispanic Heritage Foundation. “The Hispanic community has made significant contributions throughout history, and we are proud to recognize that impact. Beyond celebrating our past success, we are focused on the future. Now more than ever, Latinos will play a vital role in moving America forward.”

The Hispanic Heritage Awards were launched in 1987 by the White House as a way to recognize Hispanic Heritage Month in the U.S.

The awards receive support from about 40 national institutions who co-host the program.

Martinez to Guest-Star on “Army Wives”…

J.R. Martinez is heading back to primetime…

The 28-year-old former Salvadorian American Dancing with the Starschampion and All My Children alum will guest-star on Lifetime’s Army Wives.

J.R. Martinez

 

Martinez, an Iraq War vet, will play an Army soldier-turned-physical therapist who works with wounded veterans, according to Entertainment Weekly.

It’s a role that hits close to home for the former U.S. Army soldier who has gone on to become a motivational speaker…

Martinez served in Iraq as an infantryman and was severely injured when his vehicle hit a landmine in 2003. He suffered severe burns to more than 40 percent of his body. After numerous surgeries, the 28-year-old went on to play Brot Monroe on All My Children before winning the mirrorball trophy with Karina Smirnoff during his run on Dancing with the Stars last season.

Martinez is set to film the episode next month in Charleston, S.C.

Army Wives returns Sunday, June 24 at 10:oo pm ET. Martinez’s episode is scheduled to air in August.