‘West Side Story’: Rachel Zegler on Honoring the Late Stephen Sondheim

For actress Rachel Zegler, getting to work with the iconic Stephen Sondheim on West Side Story was memorable.
west side story sondheim

West Side Story recently held its world premiere, with critics praising the highly-anticipated adaptation of the beloved classic. Unfortunately, though, as the film readies to hit theaters, those involved are mourning the loss of Stephen Sondheim, who passed away on Nov. 26 from cancer. Sondheim, of course, penned the lyrics to West Side Story‘s memorable songs, along with lyrics for Sweeney Todd and Into the Woods. During a recent press junket for the film, the cast was asked what it was like to sing his songs that are still relevant to this day. Rachel Zegler, who plays Maria in the film, shared her experience:

I think I can speak for everyone here today that a lot of us wouldn’t be here without the words of Stephen Sondheim. We are so lucky to not only be able to sing his lyrics, but to be able to talk to him about them. We consider them silly anecdotes because of how iconic they are but, he was always wanting to change them, and always wanting to evolve them. It’s really inspiring as an artist to watch someone who had created this insane piece of work and he still has things he wants to change sixty-four years later. I certainly wouldn’t be performing without Stephen Sondheim. May his memory be a blessing.

Rachel Zegler

While West Side Story still has a rabid fanbase all these years later, Sondheim admitted the lyrics embarrassed him as recently as last year. During an interview with ABC, the lyricist talked about being critical of his work on West Side Story.

There are moments in it that embarrass me,” he told them. I’ll give you a poetic one. Says Tony in ‘Tonight,’ ‘today the world was just an address.’ I thought, ‘wait a minute, that sure sounds like he’s been reading a lot to me.’ I can’t imagine that a kid would say, having just met this girl and being, you know, the kind of kid he is, a street kid, would come up with a phrase that fancy.

Stephen Sondheim

Thankfully, Sondheim was involved in the making of the movie, and while he may be gone, his work continues to live on through it. You can check out our review on the Steven Spielberg adaptation by clicking here.

West Side Story hits theaters on Dec. 10.

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