Rita Moreno, Tony Award winner, talks doing a dream role in the ‘West Side Story’ musical revival

Rita Moreno, who made millions off a small role in the 1961 classic, has a big role in the Tony-winning 2017 version of the “West Side Story” as Anita, Tony’s (Andrew Garfield) love interest. Moreno tells us what she enjoys most about doing theater.

I believe you’re the original Anita.

Yes, and I was very surprised to see myself because I was the one who was impersonating Rita Martin, who was Cynthia Harriss, who played Anita in that original version. So, it was a very large surprise when I saw myself in the scene at the end. And they were like, “Yes, it is you. It’s amazing!” And they were so nice. It’s great! They’re great. I love them.

Related Image Expand / Contract (Rita Moreno)

When you were younger, you chose acting over dancing. And I bet this is your very first musical role in a movie. What is it like dancing up on the stage?

Yes, it is. And I’m saying, finally I get to dance and play Anita in a movie where I actually hold a gun, and all of that. I was hoping! I always get a little nervous. I wasn’t sure what to expect. But this is more exciting, because I knew it would be, because I was doing the music. I was hoping for this moment to arrive so I could sing it in a movie and then sing “America” and do the original Anita. And, so far, I’m loving the role.

With the Tony-winning “West Side Story” remake and “Grace”, you’re both in atypical big-budget musicals.

Very, very special. Very special. And I think both I and Jennifer Hudson played very special parts. I play the one of the young women who falls in love with a man and wants him to like her. And of course, he never would. So, of course, I have to follow him and smile at him a lot. I got to meet Mr. Robert Rodriguez, who directed, who’s amazing. And I was talking with him and he said, “Actually, the only issue you have is to keep the Monica Lozano line ‘I have to follow her.’” So, I have to do that. So, I don’t get to laugh. But that’s the only thing that really is hard for me because I’m so used to the other thing. But I’m doing the best I can do.

Are you a big sports fan? If not, you’ve got to be a Dallas Cowboys fan now.

Well, on TV, I still am a Rangers fan. I even used to go to sports games. But I don’t go anymore. I was part of a big sports team in North Los Angeles. I played with the ex-Citrus League Little League. You have to be in a baseball program to play Little League. It was like, oh my goodness, how do you become a baseball player? So, I had to play on a team, and I wanted to be on the team with the kid who started for me, so that I could go to the games, and I got to a lot of games! We won so many games that it was really fun for me. And we used to be practicing ball at a very early age. All these kids would come and play for us. And I was honored to be on that team.

This is your first leading lady role in a Broadway musical. Would you be interested in starring in a hit stage musical?

You know, I’ve done a lot of the smaller roles on Broadway, and the lead musical theater role, I’ve never done. I am very happy with this role. And I really enjoy it because it’s the first time I’ve played a lady who has a very important part to play, and a very good role to play.

“West Side Story” is at Center Theater Group’s Ahmanson Theatre.

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