The actor will play Tony, a role first portrayed by Larry Kert in the original 1957 Broadway musical. Richard Beymer played the part in the classic 1961 movie.
Oscar-nominated screenwriter and Pulitzer Prize winner Tony Kushner has written the adaptation of the musical originally penned by Arthur Laurents and Stephen Sondheim with music by Leonard Bernstein.
Spielberg has spent the better part of the year looking for stars for his movie, with actors needing to be able to sing, dance and, of course, act their hearts out for the story that transposes Romeo and Juliet into a 1950s New York setting featuring white and Puerto Rican gangs.
The search was taking so long that Hollywood observers worried the project would be shelved, just as casting challenges caused Spielberg to shelve The Kidnapping of Edgardo Mortara. The production looked at thousands of actors and dancers in New York, Los Angeles, Miami and Puerto Rico, with many thinking Spielberg would cast an unknown in the lead.
Elgort's casting now puts West Side Story firmly on track for a summer 2019 production start. Spielberg, Kevin McCollum and Kristie Macosko Krieger are producing the film.
Elgort, who showcased some of the needed chops in Baby Driver, will play the tragic Tony, who was once in the white gang known as the Jets and falls in love with Maria, the sister of the leader of the Sharks, the Puerto Rican gang.