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Rita Moreno was an “invaluable asset” in making ‘West Side Story,’ says Steven Spielberg

West Side Story dances into theaters this Friday and director Steven Spielberg credits the “invaluable” Rita Moreno for making the movie what it is.

“She was an invaluable asset to our entire production and she kept a kind of moral compass for us and continued to give us purpose,” the esteemed director told ABC News. 

“Why are we telling the story again? Because the power of the story needs to be told to a generation who perhaps have never heard of West Side Story. That was another reason I wanted to bring this movie out now,” the 74-year-old director added.

The musical, inspired by William Shakespeare‘s Romeo and Juliet, is set in New York City and follows the story of Tony and Maria — two star-crossed lovers with ties to rival gangs that are fighting for control over their Upper West Side neighborhood.  The musical tackles themes of violence, racism and sexual assault.

Ansel Elgort, who stars as Tony in West Side Story, says the groundbreaking film earned a seal of approval from the late, legendary composer Stephen Sondheim.

“Sondheim was able to see it before he passed and he loved it,” the 27-year-old actor revealed. “It’s so sad that he’s gone, but what a legend and how great to be able to celebrate him at this time with this great piece of work.”

Rachel Zegler stars as Maria and some critics predict her performance could score an Oscar nod for Best Actress.  She credits her “old soul” for helping her dive into character and, when discussing her “technique,” she says her talent was born from being “raised on classic films” such as “All About Eve and George Cukor‘s The Women.” 

West Side Story bows in theaters Friday, December 10.

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