Spielberg’s ‘West Side Story’ Casting Call Comes to Brooklyn

Hundreds of hopefuls lined the streets of Dumbo for their big moment to audition for the remake of the legendary musical

Candidates Abbie Mentzer and Alexandra Cooney waited their turn to audition (Photos by Arden Phillips)

Calling all Jets and Sharks! A open casting call for director Steven Spielberg’s new adaptation of the classic musical West Side Story came to Brooklyn today. The open call drew hundreds of hopefuls, who lined up patiently on the streets of Dumbo outside the audition space, the Gelsey Kirkland Academy of Classical Ballet, waiting for their moment to sing and dance.

“This is for Steven Spielberg’s movie, so that name alone, there’s going to be a flood of humans vying for the spots,” said Alexandra Cooney, a dancer from Braintree, Mass. Casting director Cindy Tolan, who has cast such diverse titles as Straight Outta Compton and The Marvelous Mrs. Maisel, emerged periodically from the dance venue to greet and shake hands with many of the candidates waiting outside.

Spielberg and Tolan have cast a particularly wide net to find just the right players for the leading characters, including Maria, Tony, Anita, Riff and Bernardo. Stops on the casting tour include Chicago, Los Angeles, Orlando and San Juan, Puerto Rico. “Spielberg seems to be taking steps to cast the movie in an ethnically authentic manner, especially at a moment when Latino activists are asking for more on-screen representation,” said The Hollywood Reporter earlier this year.

west side story

The line for auditions started on Jay Street and continued down Plymouth Street

An April audition in Manhattan drew similarly huge crowds. As she waited for her shot at the role of Anita, Kiara Carrion told NBC News: “This is a very big opportunity, especially for someone who is Latina. I am Puerto Rican, and this is huge.”

The 1957 Broadway musical, created by legends including Leonard Bernstein and Jerome Robbins, is a story of star-crossed lovers caught up between two street gangs, the Sharks, who are Latino, and the Jets, who are white. In the 1961 film adaptation, the Latina character Maria was played by Natalie Wood, who was of Ukrainian and Russian descent.

The Brooklyn casting call said applicants “should be between 15-25 years old,” have a “strong dance background,” and “must be able to sing.” They were instructed to bring sheet music for a short cut (16 bars) of a classical musical-theater song.

Candidate Christian Galvis of Astoria, Queens, who said his audition was “awesome”

One hopeful, Theresa Alexander, moved to New York from North Carolina last year to pursue acting. This was the first big audition that she’s attended in New York, which she heard about through notices in Backstage and Playbill. Friends passed along the word too, as the buzz grew in the musical-theater world. “I also had a lot of people send it to me, saying, ‘This would be fun for you’ and I was like ‘You’re right! It’s already in my calendar,’” said Alexander. 

Another candidate, Abbie Mentzer, is making the jump from ballet to musical theater. “I haven’t been on Broadway yet, but I did the touring company of Phantom of the Opera,” she said. Christian Galvis of Astoria, Queens, had recently wrapped a five-year stint as a performer on Carnival Cruise Line. “I got to travel half the world. I just came back from Australia and Alaska, and now I’m here to try and pursue other dance endeavors.”



Galvis welcomed the open call, since many calls are limited to members of Actors’ Equity, the union. “A lot of this stuff is usually done with Equity calls. So if there is space or if they’re willing, they’ll see non-Equity people,” said Galvis. “Sometimes Equity calls are sort of a negative thing because you don’t get to necessarily see the talent from people that don’t have an Equity card, but are just as talented as the people up there. So you miss out on cool opportunities like this.”

The new film, for 21st Century Fox, will be adapted by the award-winning playwright and screenwriter Tony Kushner. Filming will begin sometime after Spielberg completes his next project, the fifth installment of the Indiana Jones series, which has been reportedly scheduled to begin filming in 2019 and be released in 2020.

After his audition, Galvis was asked how he thought it went. “Awesome,” he said with a smile. “I personally have a lot of confidence. This is one of my dream roles to be in.”

Arden Phillips is a New York-based writer and a graduate of the S.I. Newhouse School of Public Communications at Syracuse University, where she received a degree in Television, Radio, and Film.