Lionsgate Casts Rachel Zegler in ‘The Hunger Games’ Movie Prequel

Lionsgate May 31 announced it has cast Rachel Zegler (West Side Story) as Lucy Gray Baird in the studio’s upcoming The Hunger Games: The Ballad of Songbirds and Snakes, the adaptation of Suzanne Collins’ New York Times best-selling prequel to The Hunger Games. Zegler will star as the female lead in the film opposite Tom Blyth, who will play a young Coriolanus Snow. The movie is set to hit theaters on Nov. 17, 2023.

The Hunger Games film franchise generated more than $3 billion worldwide, making Jennifer Lawrence, who played Katniss Everdeen, a global star.

Rachel Zegler

Zegler received acclaim for her breakthrough performance in Steven Spielberg’s West Side Story, for which she was honored with Best Actress wins from the National Board of Review and the Golden Globe Awards.

Years before he would become the tyrannical President of Panem, 18-year-old Snow is the last hope for his fading lineage, a once-proud family that has fallen from grace in a post-war Capitol. With the 10th annual Hunger Games fast approaching, the young Snow is alarmed when he is assigned to mentor Baird, the girl tribute from impoverished District 12. But, after she commands all of Panem’s attention by defiantly singing during the reaping ceremony, Snow thinks he might be able to turn the odds in their favor.

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“When you read Suzanne’s book, Lucy Gray’s emotional intelligence, physical agility, and fiercely powerful, determined singing voice shine through. Rachel embodies all of those skills — she is the perfect choice for our Lucy Gray,” Nathan Kahane, president of Lionsgate Motion Picture Group, said in a statement.

The film will be directed by Francis Lawrence, who previously directed the franchise’s Catching FireMockingjay — Part One and Mockingjay — Part Two. It will be shepherded by franchise producer Nina Jacobson and her producing partner Brad Simpson, along with Francis Lawrence. Suzanne Collins, Tim Palen, and Jim Miller will serve as executive producers.

“Like everybody, I first saw Rachel Zegler in West Side Story, and like everybody, I knew I was watching a star who would command the screen for a generation,” Lawrence said. “Lucy Gray is a perfect match for her as an actress: the character is bold, independent, and defiant, but also vulnerable, emotional, and loving. Rachel will make this character unforgettable.”

The latest draft of the screenplay is by Michael Lesslie (Macbeth, starring Michael Fassbender and Marion Cotillard, and Assassin’s Creed). Lesslie builds on the work of writers Suzanne Collins and Michael Arndt (the Oscar-winning screenwriter of Little Miss Sunshine, as well as serving as one of the writers of Catching Fire). The screenplay is based on Collins’ best-selling novel. Meredith Wieck and Scott O’Brien are overseeing on behalf of the studio.

Zegler is next set to appear in DC Comics’ Shazam! Fury of the Gods alongside Zachary Levi, Helen Mirren and Lucy Liu, which debuts in December 2022. She is currently filming the title role in Disney’s live action Snow White, directed by Marc Webb. She is represented by ICM and Freundlich Law.

West Side Story (2021)

4K ULTRA HD BLU-RAY REVIEW:

Street Date 3/15/22;
Disney/20th Century;
Musical;
Box Office $38.32 million;
$29.99 DVD, $35.99 Blu-ray, $43.99 UHD BD;
Rated ‘PG-13’ for some strong violence, strong language, thematic content, suggestive material and brief smoking.
Stars Ansel Elgort, Rachel Zegler, Ariana DeBose, David Alvarez, Mike Faist, Brian d’Arcy James, Corey Stoll, Josh Andrés Rivera, Rita Moreno.

Director Steven Spielberg tries his hand at filming a feature-length musical for the first time in his career with a fresh adaptation of the acclaimed 1957 stage version that played on Broadway.

The play, based on William Shakespeare’s Romeo & Juliet, was famously adapted into a film version in 1961 that won the Oscar for Best Picture, so there were serious doubts over whether a modern remake was even necessary.

Spielberg, though, grew up with the music of the original stage version, and felt a 60-year gap between the films was enough time to justify his own take on the material.

The original version, conceived of by Jerome Robbins, with music by Leonard Bernstein and lyrics by Stephen Sondheim, and book by Arthur Laurents, modernized Shakespeare’s famed love story to be about rival street gangs in New York in the 1950s — the Jets, who were white Americans, and the Sharks, who were Puerto Rican. Their power struggle is complicated when a Jet named Tony falls in love with Maria, sister of the head of the Sharks.

Rather than re-modernize the play modern day, Spielberg is faithful to the 1950 setting, going so far as to shoot it on film in a way that just looks like it could have been shot back then.

While respectful of the 1961 version directed by Robbins and Robert Wise, Spielberg embraces the cinematic nature of the story’s gang war to great effect, with impeccably staged musical numbers that don’t detract from the romantic nature of Tony and Maria’s story, or the violent backdrop of the life-and-death battle to control the streets.

Ansel Elgort makes for a fine Tony, while newcomer Rachel Zegler carries the day as Maria. Rita Moreno, who won the Oscar for Best Supporting Actress for playing Maria’s friend Anita in the original film, returns to the cast in a reworking of the Doc character that serves as a mentor to Tony.

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The Blu-ray includes a thorough 96-minute behind-the-scenes documentary that is broken up into smaller featurettes that cover individual topics such as costumes, sets, and the staging for several of the songs, which have been slightly rearranged to heighten the emotional impact of the story.

Some of these making-of segments include one of the last interviews with Sondheim, who died aged 91 in November 2021 just days before the new film’s premiere.

Disney Sets Transactional Home Release Dates for ‘West Side Story’ Remake

Disney Media & Entertainment Distribution will release Steven Spielberg’s remake of the classic 1961 musical West Side Story through digital retailers March 2, and on Blu-ray Disc, DVD and 4K Ultra HD Blu-ray two weeks later on March 15

As previously announced, the 20th Century Studios production be available for streaming on Disney+ and HBO Max starting March 2 as well.

West Side Story, which is nominated for seven Academy Awards, including Best Picture, tells the tale of fierce rivalries and young love in 1957 New York City. The remake 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 also serves as one of the film’s executive producers. 

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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; 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, who arranged the score, Tony Award-winning composer Jeanine Tesori, who supervised the cast on vocals; and music supervisor Matt Sullivan, who serves as executive music producer for the film.

Extas include various making-of documentaries under the banner “The Stories of West Side Story,” including a look at the actors who play rival gangs the Sharks and the Jets, and a tribute to the late Stephen Sondheim, who wrote the lyrics to the film’s musical numbers. Bonus features on the digital editions vary by retailer.

Steven Spielberg’s ‘West Side Story’ to Stream on Disney+, HBO Max Starting March 2

Steven Spielberg’s Oscar-lauded musical feature West Side Story will debut on Disney+ in the United States and most international countries on March 2. 

It will also reportedly stream on HBO Max in the United States.

The film will launch in Taiwan on March 9 and Japan on March 30 on Disney+.

In addition, the ABC one-hour special “Something’s Coming: West Side Story — A Special Edition of 20/20” is available to stream on Disney+ now.

Nominated for seven Academy Awards, including Best Picture, Best Director and Best Supporting Actress (Ariana DeBose) and 11 Critics’ Choice Awards, including Best Picture, Best Director and Best Supporting Actress (DeBose, Rita Moreno), West Side Story is the winner of three Golden Globe awards — Best Motion Picture, Musical or Comedy; Best Actress, Musical or Comedy (Rachel Zegler) and Best Supporting Actress (DeBose). The film has also received nominations from the DGA (Spielberg), PGA (Spielberg and Kristie Macosko Krieger), WGA (Tony Kushner) and SAG (DeBose for Best Female Actor in a Supporting Role) and has been named one of the year’s top 10 films by the American Film Institute and the National Board of Review, the latter having voted Rachel Zegler Best Actress of the Year.

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Directed by Spielberg from a screenplay by Pulitzer Prize and Tony Award winner Tony Kushner, West Side Story tells the classic tale of fierce rivalries and young love in 1957 New York City. This reimagining of the 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).