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'West Side Story' Costume Designer Paul Tazewell Describes How Re-Imagined Film Uses 'Storytelling Through Clothing'

NEW YORK (CBSNewYork) -- A re-imagined "West Side Story" is now playing in movie theaters across the country.

Directed by Steven Spielberg, the film is a fresh new look at a beloved classic, hoping to attract a new generation of fans.

It's described as a "West Side Story" of our time.

"It is beyond belief," costume designer Paul Tazewell said.

CBS2 sat down with Tazewell, who created the iconic looks and says getting the call from Spielberg was a bit frightening.

But, he says, "I couldn't have asked for a more beautiful experience."

Tazewell began his journey with extensive research, looking at photographs from 1950s New York.

READ MORE: 'West Side Story' Returns To Paterson For Special Screening

"I'm always conscious of the character and creating some kind of emotional narrative ... Storytelling through clothing. That's what I do," he said.

As CBS2's Aundrea Cline-Thomas reports, this much-anticipated movie has generated Oscar buzz and excitement from fans.

"It was a great script and I loved all the cinematography going into it," Brooklyn resident Destiny Ciliverti said.

"Tony was fabulous, but Maria was just real," Yonkers resident Sylvia Rini said.

"West Side Story" stars New Jersey native Rachel Zegler as Maria.

The designer says Spieling had a request.

"He wanted for Maria to appear for the dance at the gym in the white dress," Tazewell said. "That as a moment, as an iconic image, was important for his storytelling ... That holds innocence. It shows her tied to religion and church and, and her Puerto Rican culture and formality ...Anita gives her a red belt that she takes off of her waist, and that's her entree into becoming a woman."

READ MORE: Costume Designer Paul Tazewell On Breaking Barriers On Broadway And Beyond

Stepping into the role of Anita is Broadway veteran Ariana DeBose.

"Anita is a dressmaker. She makes clothes in her in her apartment, in her home," Tazewell said.

She's featured in the spectacular dance scene "America."

Tazewell says it's important to show Anita's sense of style.

"I thought, well, she's probably looking at fashion magazines, and she's deciding what she's going to look like, what she's going to wear ... Steven requested that the clothing move in a very specific way ... that the skirts would swirl ... It carries an energy," Tazewell said.

The road from research to design to filming on location took about six months. There is a feel, a flow, a rhythm.

The Jets were dressed in American blue jeans to highlight a flair of 1950s gritty, while the Sharks were suited for a more traditional Latino style in New York City.

The lyrics for "West Side Story" were written by the late Stephen Sondheim, and the screenplay for the new movie was written by Tony Kushner, who won Tony Awards and the Pulitzer Prize for the play "Angels in America."

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