I like to be in America, particularly in this very moment in time where we are able to watch the teaser trailer for the West Side Story reboot 10 times back to back, a feat not possible when the original musical came out in 1957. The new West Side will feature actual Puerto Rican actors playing Puerto Rican arrivals on mainland USA, a casting choice that was largely overlooked when the film version was produced in 1961 but at least introduced the wider world to the national treasure that is Rita Moreno. Moreno, one of the few Puerto Ricans in the first film, will also be in the reboot, albeit not reprising her role of Anita.
However, there is one small fly in the casting ointment, and that is with Ansel Elgort. Elgort will be playing the male lead of Tony, the white guy that crosses gang and ethnic lines to date Maria, played by newcomer Rachel Zegler. There is no denying that Elgort is conventionally attractive and that is great for him.
But if we really look at the tragic story of Tony and Maria, it’s evident that being conventionally attractive just isn’t enough. After all, Maria betrayed her family, the Sharks, and the very island from whence she came all to be with Tony after seeing him a single time. Some would say this is love at first sight, but what is love without a little bit of lust? For any of this to make a lick of sense, even in the world of musicals, Tony has to be an absolute baja pantie, as we Nuyoricans would say. Did Hollywood suddenly run out of youngish white men who can sing, dance, act, all while looking incredibly handsome?
Ansel Elgort is cute for a coming-of-age teen dramedy about cancer, but for a dramatic musical about gang violence, love, and the identity conflicts Puerto Ricans have to manage every day? These panties are staying firmly in place.