West Side Story (film) - Casting

Casting

Larry Kert, who originated the role of Tony on Broadway, was 30 around the time of the production and the producers wanted actors who looked believable as teenagers. Carol Lawrence, who originated the role of Maria on stage, was then 29 and considered too old for Maria. This caused some controversy and dissatisfaction when some prospective audience members learned that she had been passed over in favor of a new actress. Tony Mordente (A-Rab on stage, Action in the film) and George Chakiris (Riff on stage in the London production, Bernardo in the film) were invited to act in the film version, as was Tucker Smith, who joined the Broadway production several months after its 1957 debut. Smith went on to play Ice, a role created specifically for the film. David Winters, who originated Baby John, played A-Rab, Eliot Feld (an ensemble member and understudy for Baby John on Broadway) played Baby John, Carole D'Andrea reprised her role as Velma, Tommy Abott reprised his role as Gee-Tar, Jay Norman (Juano on stage) appeared as Pepe, and William Bramley reprised his role as Officer Krupke.

Elvis Presley was originally approached for Tony. However, his manager, Colonel Tom Parker, strongly believed the role to be wrong for Elvis and made him decline in favour of other movie musicals. According to legend, the Colonel didn't want Elvis associated with gang warfare and knife crime, although three years earlier, Elvis' character Danny Fisher stabbed and killed the small-time gangster 'shark' Vic Marrow in the movie King Creole. When the movie became a hit and earned 10 Oscars, Elvis later regretted having given up the part. Others who auditioned for the part included Warren Beatty, Tab Hunter, Anthony Perkins, Russ Tamblyn, Burt Reynolds, Troy Donahue, Bobby Darin, Richard Chamberlain, Dennis Hopper, and Gary Lockwood.

Bobby Darin made a strong impression on the producers at his audition and was, at one point, in talks for the role. However, he turned it down due to his concert and recording commitments. Tab Hunter, then 30, and Burt Reynolds, nearly 26, were also considered, due to their Broadway and singing credits, but they were dismissed as being too old. Richard Chamberlain was also thought too old at age 26, and chose to renew his contract for Dr. Kildare that same year. Eventually the producers settled on their so-called "final five": Warren Beatty, Anthony Perkins, Russ Tamblyn, Troy Donahue, and Richard Beymer. Although he was 28 before filming began, Perkins' boyish looks and Broadway resume seemed to make him a contender for the role, and he was trying to avoid getting typecast after the success of Psycho. Robert Wise originally chose Beatty for the role, figuring that youth was more important than experience. Ultimately, the former child actor Beymer (the most unlikely of the candidates) won the part of Tony. Having been invited for several callbacks, Tamblyn impressed the producers and was given the role of Riff.

The producers had not originally thought of Natalie Wood for the role of Maria. She was filming Splendor in the Grass with Warren Beatty and was romantically involved with him off-screen. When Beatty went to screen test for the role of Tony, Wood read opposite him as Maria as a favor because she had been practicing with him. The producers fell in love with the idea of Wood as Maria but did not cast Beatty.

Jill St. John, Audrey Hepburn, Diane Baker, Valerie Harper, Elizabeth Ashley, and Suzanne Pleshette were among the many actresses who lobbied for the role of Maria in the film adaptation. However, Hepburn later withdrew because she became pregnant.

Both Wood and Beymer tried to do their own singing for the movie, but their voices were ultimately deemed insufficient and they were dubbed by Marni Nixon and Jimmy Bryant, respectively. Wood's contract stated that she would pre-record all her songs. When Wood struggled with the challenging soprano role her voice was blended with Marni Nixon's. Natalie sang the lower portions and Marni provided the higher vocals, (this is similar to Marni's work dubbing some of the vocals for Marilyn Monroe on the song Diamonds Are a Girl's Best Friend). Wood filmed to the mixed vocal recordings. During production, she was led to believe that these versions would be used (with Wood singing the majority of the vocals), although music supervisors Saul Chaplin and Johnny Green had already decided her singing voice would later be completely dubbed by Nixon. As well as acting and singing the role of Ice, Tucker Smith dubbed the singing voice of Riff in "The Jet Song", instead of Russ Tamblyn. Russ' own voice was used in "Gee, Officer Krupke" and the "Quintet". Rita Moreno was dubbed by Betty Wand in the song "A Boy Like That" because the song was in too low a register for her; she sang her own vocals in "America". Marni Nixon sang some of Moreno's parts in the "Quintet". Moreno had intended to sing this herself but couldn't due to illness; Betty Wand was also ill on the day of final recording, so Nixon stepped in to record Anita's vocal line. So, technically, the song is made a quartet and in the counterpoint section of the song, Marni Nixon is singing both Maria's and Anita's lines.

Read more about this topic:  West Side Story (film)

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