In The Thick Of It; 2 Major Dance Films Are Shooting In NYC This Summer

by Michael Mahany | 7/9/2019 5:36 PM

The cast of the upcoming film adaptation of West Side Story. Photo credit: Disney/Fox.

Every year, even in the stifling summer months while a musty humidity hangs over the concrete jungle, show business in New York City impressively keeps bustling — and this year is no different.

Two major dance films, ‘West Side Story’ and ‘In The Heights’, continue production during the muggy and unpredictable Big Apple summer weather, even when the muggles of the city seem to disappear out to Hamptons or the Jersey Shore every Thursday afternoon.

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West Side Story

Tony winner and resident choreographer at the New York City Ballet, Justin Peck. Photo credit: Emilio Madrid-Kuser.

West Side Story’, the classic Broadway musical, written by the late Arthur Laurents, with music by the legendary Leonard Bernstein and lyrics by iconic Stephen Sondheim is, again, being adapted for film. 

Originally written for the stage in 1957, the musical was famously adapted to film in 1961 and starred the late Natalie Wood. The new film adaptation features an updated screenplay by Tony Award and Pulitzer Prize-winning writer Tony Kushner, direction by Academy Award winner Steven Spielberg, and choreography by New York City Ballet resident choreographer and 2018 Tony winner Justin Peck.

The new version, set for release in December of 2020, is currently filming, reportedly shooting mostly in Brooklyn, and features a plethora of talent from the New York City dance and theatre communities.

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Tony-winning actor and dancer David Alvarez stars in the role of Bernardo. Alvarez, who won a Tony in 2008 for his work as Billy Elliot in ‘Billy Elliot: The Musical’ (along with co-stars Trent Kowalik and Kiril Kulish), trained at the California Ballet before beginning professional training at ABT’s Jaqueline Kennedy Onassis School. He also appeared on Broadway in the 2014 revival of ‘On The Town’ choreographed by Joshua Bergasse — which also starred notable balletic talents like Tiler Peck and Megan Fairchild.


Tony nominee, Ariana DeBose — nominated for her work in 2018’s ‘Summer: The Donna Summer Musical’ — stars in the role of Anita. The role of Anita, originated on the stage by legendary actress and dancer Chita Rivera, was played in the 1961 film version by Rita Moreno.

And, speaking of Rita Moreno, the EGOT winner is billed as an executive producer on the film and plays a new character named Valentina, who appears as an updated and made-over version of the character, Doc.

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The film also features Ansel Elgort as Tony, newcomer Rachel Zegler as Maria, Corey Stoll as Police Lieutenant Schrank, Brian d'Arcy James as Police Sergeant Krupke, and Mike Faist as Riff.

In The Heights

Lin-Manuel Miranda. Photo credit: David Gordon.

Lin-Manuel Miranda, widely known for his work creating and starring in the smash hit ‘Hamilton’, finally brings his first major stage musical success — ‘In The Heights’ — to the cinema. 

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The 2008 hit Broadway musical ‘In The Heights’ brought Miranda to the forefront of the New York City theatre scene, as well breakout opportunities for Miranda’s now longtime collaborators Thomas Kail, Alex Lacamoire, and choreographer Andy Blankenbuehler.

Filming for ‘In The Heights’ began in early June and continues to shoot on location throughout the northern Manhattan neighborhood of Washington Heights. The release is set for June 26, 2020.

The adapted screenplay is written by Marc Klein with help from original theatrical book-writer Quiara Alegría Hudes and Lin-Manuel Miranda.

Originally choreographed for the stage by Andy Blankenbuehler, the film version of the musical is being choreographed by ‘SYTYCD’, ‘DWTS’, and ‘America’s Best Dance Crew’ dance maker, Christopher Scott.

Scott, a three-time Emmy nominated choreographer has also choreographed the films ‘Step Up All In’ and ‘Jem And The Holograms’.

The musical film is directed by ‘Step Up 2: The Streets’, ‘Step Up 3D’, and ‘Crazy Rich Asians’ director, Jon M. Chu, and stars Melissa Barrera, Anthony Ramos, Stephanie Beatriz, Jimmy Smits, Leslie Grace, Daphne Rubin-Vega, and Marc Anthony.

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Fans will also be ecstatic to hear that Miranda will make an appearance in the film as well. Miranda, the original Usnavi and creator of the musical, will play The Piragua Guy.

For the latest on the releases of these dance blockbusters, keep your eyes on Dance Network.

Michael Mahany serves as Dance Network’s New York City correspondent. He is also a professional actor, singer, dancer, writer, and host. Follow him on TwitterInstagram, or Facebook.