Rachel Zegler is a 17-year-old high school student from New Jersey

By Jen Juneau
January 15, 2019 09:17 AM

Steven Spielberg‘s much-anticipated West Side Story remake has found its Maria in newcomer Rachel Zegler.

Zegler is a 17-year-old high school student from New Jersey, Deadline reports. According to her YouTube channel, she is a self-professed “theatre kid” who works as a wedding singer and has performed in starring roles in onstage productions like Beauty and the BeastThe Little MermaidThoroughly Modern Millie and more.

While the movie will mark Zegler’s onscreen debut, she has played Maria before on stage — an “iconic role” she is “humbled” to reprise on the silver screen, she told Deadline.

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“I am so thrilled to be playing the iconic role of Maria alongside this amazing cast,” said Zegler, who will star opposite Ansel Elgort as Tony, Ariana DeBose as Anita, David Alvarez as Bernardo, Josh Andrés Rivera as Chino and Rita Moreno (Anita in the 1961 film) as Valentina: a re-conceived and expanded version of the character of Doc, the owner of the corner store in which Tony works.

“West Side Story was the first musical I encountered with a Latina lead character,” Zegler continued. “As a Colombian-American, I am humbled by the opportunity to play a role that means so much to the Hispanic community.”

West Side Story, 1961
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Zegler further expressed her gratitude for the opportunity on her Instagram account Monday, writing alongside a photo of the newly announced cast members, “When I played Maria on stage a few summers ago, I never could have imagined that I’d be taking on the role again in Steven Spielberg’s West Side Story.”

“I send a huge thank you to everyone who helped make this incredible dream a reality — I never could’ve done it alone,” she continued, calling out the cast members whom she is “so honored” to work alongside “in telling this impeccably poignant story.”

RELATED VIDEO: Rita Moreno Recycles Her 1962 Oscars Dress 56 Years Later for the 2018 Academy Awards

Inspired by William Shakespeare’s Romeo and JulietWest Side Story famously centers on the rivalry between young street gangs, the Jets and the Sharks.

The 1961 film adaptation won 10 Oscars, including Best Supporting Actress for Moreno, now 86, Best Picture and Best Director.

Spielberg’s adaptation of West Side Story is set to begin filming in the summer of 2019.