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Steven Spielberg Wanted to Cut 'I Feel Pretty' from WEST SIDE STORY

Spielberg and the musical's late lyricist Stephen Sondheim were in favor of axing the song from the film's score. 

This week, acclaimed filmmaker Steven Spielberg and Pulitzer Prize-winning screenwriter, Tony Kushner, were on hand at Manhattan's DGA Theatre for a special screening of their film remake of West Side Story.

During a panel that included Kushner, Spielberg, and Oscar-nominated actor Ariana DeBose, among others, the director praised his collaborator for challenging his proposal to cut Maria's song, "I Feel Pretty" from the film.

Den of Geek has reported that Spielberg and the musical's late lyricist Stephen Sondheim were in favor of axing the song from the film's score.

Spielberg said, "The thing I was wrong about and you were right about, and the only one on my side was Stephen Sondheim, [was] we both wanted to cut 'I Feel Pretty.'"

He continued, "The reason was that in the original Robert Wise and Jerome Robbins film, 'I Feel Pretty' presages the rumble. It happens when Tony and Maria know they're existent in the world together and she's celebrating the happiest moment of her life. But in the original play, and the reason as Sondheim explained to me that it came to be, is because they came to him and said, 'You need to write an upbeat number because at the end of the Second Act, Bernardo and Riff are dead, and the audience is sobbing out by the concessions area, and we come back with more tragedy after they've had their break. So we need to pick them up again.' So Sondheim under protest wrote 'I Feel Pretty' with Lenny [Bernstein] and it works. It brought the audience back on their feet."

He continues, "Well in our movie, it also follows the rumble, and I didn't know without that 15-minute or 20-minute interval whether the audience could recover [and accept] that she would even be having this moment. And then Tony explained to me, and then I explained to Stephen-and he paused for a long time on the phone-that this is the first time in our story that the entire audience is ahead of Maria's story. And the audience will feel very protective of her because we know she's about to find out. So it went back in."

The late Stephen Sondheim had notably stated throughout the years that he felt embarrassed by his work on the song, due to what he deemed an incongruence between the song's lyrical content and Maria's character.

Before his passing, Sondheim told CBS, "What had happened was simply that it was my first show, I wanted to show off, I wanted to show that I could rhyme. "It's alarming how charming I feel," Can you imagine a Puerto Rican girl who's just arrived in the country and she's singing it's alarming how charming I feel?"

The song was also cut from the most recent Broadway revival of the show, helmed by acclaimed director Ivo van Hove.

Another disagreement arose between Spielberg and Kushner when it came to the placement of the number, "Gee, Officer Krupke." In the 1957 stage musical, the main source material for the remake, the song appears in Act 2 following the rumble. In the 1961 film, the song was moved to the first act.

"We only disagreed about one song, which is I wanted to put 'Krupke' in the second act, which is where it originally was intended to be," said Kushner, "and you had the most violent reaction to anything I've ever done! Do you remember at one point in the long process of doing Lincoln, I wrote a scene where there was this fantasy character, an old lady who visits Lincoln and then falls out a window or something? You were very polite about that. 'Oh yeah, that's interesting but maybe not.' But [on this] you said, 'I love the screenplay until I got to 'Krupke,' and then it ruined it for me! Never! It's never, ever going to be there, get it out of there! Rewrite the whole thing, I can't show it to anybody unless you get it out!' So it got shoved in the first act."

Though the Pulitzer Prize-winning playwright expressed misgivings about the choice, he was ultimately convinced that they had done the right thing upon seeing the final cut of the film.

Spielberg's film has been nominated for 7 Academy Awards including Best Picture, Best Director and Best Supporting Actress and 11 Critics' Choice Awards.

"West Side Story" tells the classic tale of fierce rivalries and young love in 1957 New York City. This reimagining of the beloved musical stars Ansel Elgort (Tony); Ariana DeBose (Anita); David Alvarez (Bernardo); Mike Faist (Riff); Brian d'Arcy James (Officer Krupke); Corey Stoll (Lieutenant Schrank); Josh Andrés Rivera (Chino); with Rita Moreno (as Valentina, who owns the corner store in which Tony works); and introducing Rachel Zegler (Maria.) Moreno - one of only three artists to be honored with Academy, Emmy, GRAMMY, Tony and Peabody Awards - also serves as one of the film's executive producers.

Bringing together the best of both Broadway and Hollywood, the film's creative team includes Kushner, who also served as an executive producer; Tony Award winner Justin Peck, who choreographed the musical numbers in the film; renowned Los Angeles Philharmonic conductor and GRAMMY Award winner Gustavo Dudamel, who helmed the recording of the iconic score; Academy Award-nominated composer and conductor David Newman ("Anastasia"), who arranged the score, Tony Award-winning composer Jeanine Tesori ("Fun Home," "Thoroughly Modern Millie"), who supervised the cast on vocals; and GRAMMY-nominated music supervisor Matt Sullivan ("Beauty and the Beast," "Chicago"), who serves as executive music producer for the film.

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