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to Section One | to Arts & Entertainment
posted Friday, September 23, 2016 - Volume 44 Issue 39
SGN EXCLUSIVE INTERVIEW:

RITA MORENO: Born to be a performer
Arts & Entertainment
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SGN EXCLUSIVE INTERVIEW:

RITA MORENO: Born to be a performer

by Eric Andrews-Katz - SGN A&E Writer

IN OLYMPIA - OCT 13
IN EDMONDS - OCT 15
IN TACOMA - OCT 16


Rita Moreno is truly a National Treasure. Ms. Moreno holds the honor of winning the Grand Slam of Show Business (the Academy, Grammy, Emmy, and Tony Awards), as well as the Triple Crown of Acting (Emmy, Academy, and Tony Awards specifically for acting); and the esteemed honor of being one of two people to ever achieve both. With a new series about to be released from Netflix, a revised version of 'One Day at a Time,' and the launch of a new concert exploring her career, the Seattle Gay News caught up with this indomitable, unstoppable octogenarian.



Eric Andrews-Katz: Who were your earliest influences in becoming a performer?

Rita Moreno: There weren't any. I was in Puerto Rico and was five years old. I would dance for Grandpa. He'd put on a record and I'd shake my little bootie for him. That's where it all started. It convinces me that there are constitutional factors in a person that makes up their personality. I was born to be a performer.

Andrews-Katz: You got your first Broadway role in Skydrift. What was it like for a 13 year old on Broadway?

Moreno: I don't think it was that unusual except that I was a 13-year-old Puerto Rican girl on Broadway. I was playing an Italian girl and it was absolutely thrilling. Thank goodness for rehearsal time - there were about 12 weeks of it - because we closed after we opened. That was my first experience and I was in shock. I remember thinking, 'Huh? What happened?' The reviews murdered us and that was it. I wasn't allowed to go back. My mother went to collect my things from the dressing room and that was it. I never saw the theatre again and didn't do so again for quite some time.

Andrews-Katz: Despite that you have a strong singing voice, why did the studios have Leona Gordon dub your voice in The King and I for Tuptim's song, 'We Kiss in the Shadow'?

Moreno: Who is Leona Gordon? Oh yeah. It was because I wasn't accustomed to singing in that Broadway kind of hybrid voice, sort of operatic. I didn't know how to do it, so they had someone else do it for me. Ken Darby ran the music department for the show, said afterwards that he was sorry he'd done that. But it was too late.

Andrews-Katz: Chita Rivera created the role of 'Anita' in West Side Story. You brought the character to the cinematic screen. Is there a rivalry between you two or is that just Show Queen gossipy humor?

Moreno: You know it's all humor. I'd have to say if I had been the originator of the role and someone else got to play the role for the movie, I'd sure as Hell wouldn't be happy about it! Chita is a classy dame! If there is a rivalry it isn't on my part. I've always, always admired her work. I'd drop everything to see her in a show, and I have done so several times. I saw her opening night of The Visit. It surprised the heck out of her backstage, but I've always loved her work. What's not to love? She and I are old buzzards (I'm talking strictly age here); we are like the energy bunnies and just keep going. Like Chita, I'm still doing it. I'm still getting hired and getting paid for the work I do. It's FABULOUS! I'm 84 years old and my friend, Emilio Estefan just helped me put out my first album all in Spanish. I have a book about my life, and a new series on Netflix; a new version of 'One Day at a Time.' I'd feel bad complaining if I had a bump toe. I'm in good company.

Andrews-Katz: After the success of West Side Story, you took several years of self-imposed exile from Hollywood. Why?

Moreno: That wasn't self-imposed. If only! I was offered more of the same types of roles but in lesser movies - gang movies, etc. And once I had that 'Golden Man' statue and a Golden Globe under my arms, I said 'I'm not doing that type anymore. I'm going to hold out for different roles.' I didn't work in a movie for seven years. I guess I showed them, eh! It broke my heart. I spent a very sad and unhappy seven years during that time. I did theatre and TV, but the only movie roles I was being offered were still gang movies. I don't want to do that again. How can you repeat something like West Side Story?

Andrews-Katz: In 1972 the second season of 'The Electric Company' was aired with your now famous yell. How did the yell come about for the opening?

Moreno: That's a simple story. It came from a skit I was doing with Bill Cosby (he leant a lot of charm and funny to that show back then). Cosby was a milkman and I was 'Millie the Helper,' his assistant. We delivered milk in the early morning and he asked me to get the other helpers. I thought of how Costello used to yell for Abbott, and tried to yell 'Hey, You Guys' in the same tone. Kids loved it because they weren't supposed to yell. Teachers hated it because the kids were yelling it in the hallways of the schools. It became immensely popular and was used from the second season opening until the show ended. I loved doing that show.

Andrews-Katz: You won the 1975 Tony Award for Terrance McNally's farce, The Ritz. Was there any backlash at the time from a play about a homosexual bathhouse?

Moreno: Not one little bit. More than that, there was no backlash with me playing what seemed like a stereotype character or personality. I wanted to make fun of all the characters that have ever been portrayed in that vein. There was never a backlash. I took my young daughter to see the show. My husband and I explained homosexuality in the simplest of terms for her so she'd understand it. She'd seen the show several times when she brought several of her friends for her birthday. I could hear her explaining it to her young friends: 'It's about two fellows who love each other so much they marry other boys. Sometimes that happens.' I was so proud of her, listening in to their conversation. Everyone adored my character 'Googie Gomez.' I invented her back when I was in West Side Story. There are two things dancers will do when they are not on stage; they smoke (at the time), and they try to crack each other up. One day I started doing Googie for a bus/truck company of Gypsy I was in. I came out with 'I had a dream...' in that accent and they all loved it. Cut to many years later when I was at a party that Jimmy Coco was throwing. Jimmy introduced me to Terrance [McNally] and said, 'Do that crazy Puerto Rican singer character.' I started to sing 'Everything's Coming Up Roses,' and he fell off his chair. To add more spice to it, I did a short narration of the poem, 'Hiawatha,' all with that accent. I also did the speech from Hamlet. Terrance said then, 'I'm going to write a part for that character.' About a year or so later, my husband ran into Jimmy Coco on the street. He asked if we'd looked over the script yet. It showed up the next day, and was called 'The Tubs.' Terrance understood that character and never forgot about her. The character was originally called 'Rita Googie Gomez.' She's so earnest and that makes her special without an iota of talent.

Andrews-Katz: Since you recreated the classic role of 'Googie Gomez' in the 1976 film version of The Ritz, what do you think ever happened to Googie - after the Gaetano/bathhouse scandal?

Moreno: Stephen Collins, who played the high voice detective Brick in the play. He and I decided that Brick and Googie would become lovers and get married. He made up this story that he loved her and would become her agent, booking gigs for her like singing the national anthem in ballparks - always in her accent. He'd always speak in his high falsetto and I would do Googie's voice. We invented all sorts of gigs for her to do. I saw him recently, he's a dear, dear friend, and he still does that voice. We had fun in that show. Jack Weston we called 'The Rock' because anything I did as Googie would make him crack up. He had no control on stage and one of those laughs that sounded through the tongue like a raspberry. We all were like children in that show, having a great time.

Andrews-Katz: You've won the Tony, Academy, Grammy and Emmy. You've been given the Lifetime Achievement Award. What's the driving force that keeps you touring?

Moreno: I love what I do. That's it; I love what I do, and I get paid for it! What could be bad about that? At this point, at 84 years old, to still be doing what I love in life, to have my family, my daughter and grandsons nearby, I have the best of all worlds. I am one of those fortunate people. I also am one of the happiest people you'll ever meet. I like to smell the roses.

Andrews-Katz: How did you put together 'An Evening With Rita Moreno,' and what should the audience expect?

Moreno: Get ready for great stories. It's really about my life. I've lived 84 years, and there are a lot of stories to tell: hilarious ones, and sad ones, and some show biz anecdotes that are too delicious. You'll go away smiling.

Andrews-Katz: Are there any regrets in your career?

Moreno: That is such a waste of time. I don't even think like that. Life is too short to go about regretting something that didn't happen. It's about doing it right the first time. I don't look in the past, it's over and done already.

Andrews-Katz: If you could play any role - regardless of any restrictions gender/nationality/age - what would it be and why?

Moreno: You know I've played them. Maria Callas in Master Class - a wonderful role. I've played Norma Desmond in Sunset Boulevard in London. I have to tell you, I was good in those roles. I never say things like that, but I was good in those roles. I like really strong roles; I'm good at playing characters like that. I also played Amanda in The Glass Menagerie. Tennessee Williams always wrote such warm and funny characters - they're real.

In October, Rita Moreno brings her show 'An Evening With Rita Moreno' to three cities in Western Washington - Olympia (10/13 @ the Washington Center for the Performing Arts), Edmonds (10/15 at the Edmonds Center for Arts) and Tacoma (10/16 @ the Broadway Center for the Performing Arts). Performing in concert she will be celebrating her life through story and song.

Rita Moreno (aka Rosa Dolores Alverio) was born in Puerto Rico, a heritage that she is vastly proud of. She moved to New York City at the age of five, and made her Broadway debut at 13 starting a career that has never faltered. She's won the Grand Slam of Show Business (the Academy, Grammy, Emmy, and Tony Awards), as well as the Triple Crown (Emmy, Academy, and Tony Awards specifically for acting); and she has the esteemed honor of being one of two people to ever achieve both. Her work includes the films Singing in the Rain, West Side Story, and The Four Seasons. Her television work includes 'The Rockford Files,' 'The Muppet Show' and the PBS highly acclaimed 'The Electric Company.'

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SGN EXCLUSIVE INTERVIEW:

RITA MORENO: Born to be a performer

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