Rachel Zegler's fairy tale rise from YouTuber to star of West Side Story

Steven Spielberg's remake of West Side Story puts a vibrant new spin on the classic musical. And yet, as before, it's fundamentally a star-crossed tale of romance between two opposites: Jets gang member Tony, and Maria, the sister of rival Sharks leader Bernardo.

Baby Driver's Ansel Elgort takes on the role of Tony, and screen newcomer Rachel Zegler portrays Maria. Zegler's rise to Hollywood stardom is something of a remarkable fairy tale in and of itself, so we're recapping her rise from talented high school star to influential YouTuber and, eventually, Spielberg favourite.


1. High school star

Rachel's vocal chops were evident from her high school years. She performed in various student productions including Beauty and the Beast, before graduating onto the likes of Rent, Les Miserables and Thoroughly Modern Millie.

2. Graduating to YouTube

Rachel started her YouTube channel in 2015 and has subsequently racked up nearly 300,000 followers. (That's surely set to skyrocket following her breakout role in West Side Story.) Her videos showcased performances of various hits including Lady Gaga's Shallow from A Star Is Born (which has amassed more than 3 million YouTube views).

3. West Side Story audition

In January 2018, director Steven Spielberg announced an open casting call for the role of Maria in his remake of West Side Story. Zegler submitted tapes of her performances of the songs 'Tonight' and 'I Feel Pretty', although she already had the experience of performing the former. At the age of just 16, a pre-fame Rachel performed 'Tonight' at the Bergen Performing Arts Centre – check it out below to get a sense of her star power at such a young age.

4. Rachel wins the part of Maria

Rachel secured the pivotal role of Maria in January 2019, beating out more than 3,000 applicants. Zegler had this to say (via Variety): "I am so thrilled to be playing the iconic role of Maria alongside this amazing cast. West Side Story was the first musical I encountered with a Latina lead character. As a Colombian-American, I am humbled by the opportunity to play a role that means so much to the Hispanic community."

5. Critical acclaim for West Side Story

"In the Oscar-winning 1961 film version, adapted from the 1957 Broadway show, Maria was mostly a perky, saintly innocent, but here she gets a spitfire upgrade," writes Owen Gleiberman in Variety. "The charismatic newcomer Rachel Zegler gives her a touch of fierceness and a boldly chiseled stare of longing. When Maria and Tony sing 'Tonight', the most transcendent song in West Side Story, they’re on the fire escape, in vintage Romeo-and-Juliet-of-the-tenement fashion, and Spielberg stages their duet with an intimate choreographed flow, so that the words seem to spin and dance. Their love is an oasis of hope in the concrete jungle."

6. Stardom awaits...

With her role in DC superhero sequel Shazam! Fury of the Gods, plus her role as the title character in Disney's forthcoming Snow White remake, it's safe to say that Rachel has hit the big time. She's also made the Forbes 30 Under 30 list, indicating the most influential and successful youngsters due to burst into stardom over the next 12 months.

Click here to book your tickets for West Side Story, which is released in Cineworld cinemas on 10th December.