Up-and-coming theater kid Rachel Zegler is playing Snow White in Disney’s next live-action movie production reports Deadline’s Justin Kroll on Tuesday. A practiced soprano, this is Zegler’s second major singing role after landing the part of Maria in Steven Spielberg’s West Side Story, beating out over 30,000 other hopefuls. The 20-year-old is of Colombian descent and is the company’s latest diversity hire after R&B singer Halle Bailey was handpicked to play Ariel in The Little Mermaid.
Footage of Zegler playing Maria reached Snow White casting directors in time and reportedly played a pivotal role. Director Marc Webb has only praises for Zegler’s musical ability. He tells Deadline, “Rachel’s extraordinary vocal abilities are just the beginning of her gifts. Her strength, intelligence, and optimism will become an integral part of rediscovering the joy in this classic Disney fairytale.”
The live-action adaptation of the animated feature that set off the Golden Age of Disney has been in development since 2016 but considered for much longer; executives had no problem finding the right director, but music was a different beast entirely. Disney’s predilection for musicals is an interweaving tale as old as time, its empire practically built on years upon years of performances to remember. Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs, from which Rachel Zegler’s adaptation takes inspiration, is the Mouse’s first hand-drawn hit and featured beloved classics like “Someday My Prince Will Come” and “Whistle While You Work,” which not only netted awards at the Oscars, it also set the tone for future Disney musicals to come. Only truly exceptional songwriting could get the project going.
Executives got their wish when Guy Ritchie’s Aladdin came to fruition in 2019. The live-action reimagining of the 1992 animated film brought the songwriting talents of Benj Pasek and Justin Paul (collectively known as Pasek & Paul) to the attention of Disney bigwigs, and with it, a plethora of other live-action possibilities. Pasek & Paul composed “Speechless” for Naomi Scott’s Princess Jasmine; it was shortlisted for Best Original Song at the 92nd Academy Awards and immediately became a fan-favorite. Conclusively impressed, Disney hired Pasek & Paul to headline its next big-screen blockbuster, the live-action version of Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs. It didn’t take long for producers, led by La La Land’s Marc Platt, to find their director. The Amazing Spider-Man’s Marc Webb had just finished filming Netflix’s The Society when he was tapped to direct Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs in 2019. This all-new iteration will be expanding on the lore previously established in 1937. Principal photography is scheduled to begin sometime in 2022.
Disney’s Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs isn’t the only live-action remake of a preexisting animated property to prioritize theater kids and musical vets for both lead and supporting roles. Halle Bailey (The Little Mermaid) is one-half of Chloe x Halle. The Lion King’s main roles are filled by established musicians, with Donald Glover and Beyoncé at the fore. Bill Condon’s Beauty and the Beast showcased the vocal range of Josh Gad and Luke Evans. Executives also hired seasoned Broadway composers and lyricists to work with legends like Alan Menken and Tim Rice on tweaking existing songs and writing entirely original new pieces. Lin-Manuel Miranda (Hamilton, Moana, In The Heights) is doing The Little Mermaid. And Pasek & Paul, known among casual viewers for The Greatest Showman, Aladdin, and La La Land, are working with Rachel Zegler on Snow White. They also wrote Dear Evan Hansen.
Snow White’s Rachel Zegler is fairly new to show business, but already has the industry’s top dogs vouching for her talent. Aside from West Side Story, the Hackensack native will also be playing the third Hesperides sister, facing Zachary Levi’s Shazam, in the DC Extended Universe’s Fury of the Gods. West Side Story, starring Angel Elgort as Tony and Zegler as Maria, is written by Tony Kushner and based on the Tony Award-winning 1957 musical by Arthur Laurents, Leonard Bernstein, and Stephen Sondheim. It comes out on December 10.