Written by Staff Writer
Rita Moreno plays Anita, one of the central characters in the 1962 Broadway musical “West Side Story,” alongside Natalie Wood as Maria and Chita Rivera as Anita’s original lover, Bernardo. The original songs, composed by Leonard Bernstein and Stephen Sondheim, include the title song (“West Side Story”), “I Feel Pretty,” “Tonight,” “The Lady Is a Tramp,” “America,” “I Feel Pretty,” “Maria,” “Tonight,” “Someone to Watch Over Me,” “I’ve Grown Accustomed to Her Face,” “Tonight,” “Somewhere,” “America” and “Coronado.”
CNN’s Saman Kontar and Ana Cabrera sat down with Moreno to discuss her career and to hear her recollection of the legendary musical.
“Rita Moreno is an American treasure. The woman born in 1927, the singer born in 1915, the professional dancer born in 1926, the Academy Award winning actress born in 1934, who received her first Emmy nomination at 26 and her first Tony nomination at 48, she has been blazing the trail on television, in movies, on stage and in television series since her first part on Broadway, in the original Broadway cast of “On the Town.”
“This legend is most famous for her role as Anita, a Puerto Rican Puerto Rican girl, whom the members of Jets and Sharks view in an innate manner as a weaker and more petite exotic–which is the way she sees them too. Their ragtag ways disgust her so they reject her. The key to her story is that she survives.
“Years later she tells us that the kids think she’s cool, because she fights back for herself and takes revenge in her songs. These two teens are the key reason why she ends up with him, out of revenge and affection.
“I found this talented and charismatic young man Bernardo Ramirez who was eleven years old at the time and found that it was my life mission to save him. He acted as a source of strength and inspiration. It was with his support and love that I got through the years.
“Bernardo and I became very close. We had many wonderful private moments together and when I was very sick with cancer. He was truly there for me. He’d look at me and say ‘everything will be okay,’ and he was absolutely right.
“These are the stories I always tell my fans. That show has inspired generations of Latinos to pursue their dreams. We are not victims and we don’t let anybody try to make us think that we are. We had women like Anita who stood up for themselves and took back their strength. We worked hard and were still treated as if we were objects.
“Sometimes when we speak about the ‘West Side Story’ we are not speaking about the 1961 musical. This is a beautiful piece of American history that showed the war between Latinos and whites.
“Diverse black and white actors faced the same discrimination. Despite the bandages, knife wounds and scars, Maria and Bernardo had nothing to do with racial equality. If they had, we wouldn’t know ‘West Side Story.'”
Rita Moreno’s West Side Story: A Do-It-Yourself Tour airs in selected cities beginning on June 17. Select cities include New York, Los Angeles, Philadelphia, Chicago, Miami, San Francisco, Detroit, Seattle, Denver, Dallas, Houston, Denver, Boston, Cleveland, Minneapolis, Nashville, Raleigh, Boston, Birmingham, Nashville, Lexington, Richmond, Cleveland, Nashville, Indianapolis, Pittsburgh, Providence, Pittsburgh, Philadelphia, Ann Arbor, Portland, Austin, Greensboro, Charlottesville, Atlanta, Nashville, Chicago, Nashville, Phoenix, Charlotte, Durham, Kansas City, Baltimore, Pittsburgh, Orlando, St. Louis, Cincinnati, Knoxville, and Kansas City.
Allowing the audience to tour New York City and meet her, Rita will also participate in live-chat and in-studio interviews on CNNGO that will feature her personal stories and anecdotes that will inspire the audience.