I can’t imagine what it must be like to tackle an iconic role like Bernardo in West Side Story. When the Leonard Bernstein and Stephen Sondheim musical was first adapted for the screen, the leader of the Sharks was played by George Chakiris, and it earned him an Academy Award for his performance. When Steven Spielberg was determined to re-imagine the musical a second time, he cast the proper actors in the roles, and David Alvarez tears through the screen. His Bernardo is tough, brooding, and protective, and his passionate portrayal should not go unnoticed.
Alvarez has more to do in Tony Kushner’s adaptation. Bernardo is now a boxer and fighting is not just in his blood, but it’s his job. He is star in the ring, so he thinks he can take on Riff and the Jets easily. The rumble is one of the most thrilling scenes of the year, because everyone’s expectations of what will happen at the brawl is not what goes down. When things get serious during the fight, watch how Tony approaches Bernardo.
I’ve seen Spielberg’s West Side twice now, and I am blown away by the chemistry between Alvarez and Ariana Debose as Anita. They could have an entirely different movie all their own, but their rhythm together is truly captivating. You want to see them bicker and make up and squabble. They are incredible together. Alvarez, who won a Tony Award at the age of 12, brings a masculinity and fire to Bernardo’s dancing. It makes you think of how Bernardo dances in the ring and uses his physicality to swerve and navigate through life.
Alvarez may not be the first Bernardo on the big screen, but his impact packs a serious punch.