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The Original 1961 West Side Story Cast: Where Are They Now?

·7-min read
West Side Story
West Side Story

Donaldson Collection/Getty

Their performance left us snapping (we mean, clapping).

West Side Story hit the silver screen for the first time in 1961 with a talented cast that performed choreography and musical numbers that still resonates with audiences 60 years later.

Directed by Jerome Robbins and Robert Wise, the 1961 screenplay was based on the 1957 Broadway production of the same name. Since then, there have been various adaptations of the classic story, including Steven Spielberg's modern retelling starring Rachel Zegler and Ansel Elgort premiering on Dec 10.

Inspired by Shakespeare's Romeo and Juliet, the plot details the rise and fall of two young lovers from different backgrounds amid cultural tensions and gang violence. Set in the 1950s, the Sharks are a Puerto Rican group who feud with the Jets, an American gang, over control of the Upper West Side of NYC.

RELATED: West Side Story Remake Praised by Critics: 'Spielberg Topped the Original'

Rita Moreno West Side Story
Rita Moreno West Side Story

Silver Screen Collection/Getty Rita Moreno in West Side Story

The original 1961 cast includes Natalie Wood, Richard Beymer, Russ Tamblyn, Rita Moreno, and George Chakiris. Not only did the talented bunch play notable roles in the film, but they played a part in the movie's multiple-accolade earnings as well.

Few films have won more Oscars than their history-making movie, which received 10 trophies at the 34th Academy Awards in 1962, including Best Picture. It holds the record for the most wins for a musical and was the second-highest-grossing film in the U.S. that same year.

In addition to a slew of high praise from critics and viewers, "the film has been deemed 'culturally significant' by the United States Library of Congress and was selected for the National Film Registry in 1997," noted on the official West Side Story site.

RELATED: West Side Story: Everything We Know About Steven Spielberg's Remake

West Side Story
West Side Story

West Side Story

While we patiently await the premiere of Spielberg's take on the classic hit, let's take a look at where the original 1961 cast of West Side Story is today.

Natalie Wood as Maria

Natalie Wood
Natalie Wood

Silver Screen Collection/Getty; Ron Galella Collection via Getty

Natalie Wood played the lead female character of Maria in 1961's West Side Story. Maria is compared to Shakespeare's Juliet who falls in love with Tony's Romeo. She's the younger sister of Bernardo, who's head of the Puerto Rican Sharks, yet finds herself at a controversial crossroad because Tony leads the rival Jets gang.

Wood shot to stardom at age 16 for her famed role in 1955's Rebel Without a Cause, co-starring alongside Dean and Sal Mineo. 1961 was a big year for the actress who starred in two Oscar-nominated films: Splendor in the Grass and West Side Story. In 1962, she played the title role in Gypsy, the musical about stripper Gypsy Rose Lee.

The actress had relationships with many notable names over the years including Dennis Hopper, hotel dynasty heir Nicky Hilton, and even singer Elvis Presley. Wood placed her focus on family after remarrying actor Robert Wagner in 1972 and having a daughter in 1974.

The couple remained together until Wood died at age 43 in 1981.

Rachel Zegler will play the role of Maria in Spielberg's revival.

Richard Beymer as Tony

Richard Beymer
Richard Beymer

Artists/Kobal/Shutterstock; Ron Galella Collection via Getty

Richard Beymer played Tony, the male lead in 1961's West Side Story, who falls in love with Maria after their first encounter. He was recognized for his role in 1959's The Diary of Anne Frank prior to the aforementioned musical film and has held various roles since.

At 83 years old, Beymer has over 60 acting credits to his name. With his revived role of Benjamin Horne in the 2017 reboot of Twin Peaks being one of them. He drifted away from acting later in his career and shifted towards making films of his own.

"I never left the movies. I just made other kinds of movies. Hollywood was a thing of the past for me because I'd found something that thrilled me," he told the Los Angeles Times. "That was the best fun in the world, doing movies that were spontaneous at every step, as compared with Hollywood movies that are all planned out."

Ansel Elgort will play the role of Tony in Spielberg's revival.

Russ Tamblyn as Riff

Russ Tamblyn
Russ Tamblyn

United Artists/Kobal/Shutterstock; Roy Rochlin/Getty

Russ Tamblyn played the snappy, tough guy and Jet member Riff in 1961's West Side Story. This role wasn't what he intended to play when he first auditioned.

"I auditioned for the part of Tony in the movie, and I didn't get that part," Tamblyn told AntennaTV. "They offered me the part of Riff, and I took it!" He added, "Oddly enough, I've never gotten anything I've ever auditioned for."

Prior to West Side Story, he appeared in Seven Brides for Seven Brothers and earned an Oscar nomination for his supporting role in Peyton Place. Following his role as Riff, he was in the 1964 film The Long Ships, and also starred in both the original and rebooted Twin Peaks.

At 86 years old, he has about 94 acting credits and is a Golden Globe recipient as well. He played a part in the 2018 series The Haunting of Hill House and most recently, he's working on a career-focused memoir called Dancing on the Edge, according to Variety.

Mike Faist will play the role of Riff in Spielberg's revival.

Rita Moreno as Anita

Rita Moreno
Rita Moreno

United Artists/Kobal/Shutterstock; Jamie McCarthy/Getty

Rita Moreno played the unforgettable, Oscar-winning role of Anita, Maria's best friend, in 1961's West Side Story. At 89 years old, she's had an impressive career to date and even plays a part in Spielberg's upcoming film (although she won't be reviving her role).

Per the Hollywood Reporter, Moreno will serve as "both an actress and an executive producer — a role that's intended to help guide the project away from the original's dated and racially insensitive elements."

The actress was an advocate for appropriate culture representation in the original film and almost quit due to offensive lyrics. "One day before we actually started rehearsals, I looked at the score and there it is… 'Puerto Rico, you ugly island. Island of tropic diseases,'" Moreno, a native Puerto Rican, told ABC News.

Moreno is one of 16 people who have received an EGOT (winning an Emmy, Grammy, Oscar, and Tony), the most coveted honor in Hollywood. She also received the Presidential Medal of Freedom from President George W. Bush in 2004.

Aside from the upcoming West Side Story reboot, her most recent acting credit was her 2017 role in the Netflix remake of the 1975 sitcom One Day at a Time.

Ariana DeBose will play the role of Anita in Spielberg's revival.

George Chakiris as Bernardo

George Chakiris
George Chakiris

United Artists/Kobal/Shutterstock; Tommaso Boddi/Getty

George Chakiris played Bernardo, leader of the Sharks, in 1961's West Side Story. The Oscar-winning actor received the 1962 Academy Award for Best Supporting Actor for his role.

Chakiris appeared in multiple projects following the hugely successful musical, such as Two and Two Make Six (where he played the lead), Diamond Head, Kings of the Sun, Bebo's Girl, and 633 Squadron. In the early 1960s, he took on a pop-singing career, resulting in a few hit songs.

RELATED: West Side Story's Rita Moreno, George Chakiris and Russ Tamblyn Are Hosting a Virtual Reunion

He also had recurring roles on shows such as Superboy, Pale Blood, Human Target, and The Girls of Lido. The British sitcom, Last of the Summer Wine, was his last project before retirement in 1996.

The now 87-year-old actor's role of Bernardo will be played by David Alvarez in Spielberg's revival.

William Bramley as Officer Krupke

William Bramley
William Bramley

United Artists

William Bramley made his film debut as Officer Krupke in 1961's West Side Story, the character that served as the inspiration behind the comedic song, "Gee, Officer Krupke."

Following his West Side Story stint, he later took on a number of TV and movie characters with credits including Madigan and The Thrill of It All. The actor played another lead policeman in the second-season episode of the Star Trek TV series entitled "Bread and Circuses."

St. Elsewhere was his last TV credit as Bramely passed away at age 57 in 1985.

Brian D'Arcy James will play the role of Officer Krupke in Spielberg's revival.

RELATED: Meet All 33 Young Performers Making Their Broadway Debuts in West Side Story

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