by Don Grigware Broadway World
PUBLISHED: November 11, 2019
On Saturday November 9, iconic actress/singer Rita Moreno brought her one-woman show An Evening with Rita Moreno to the Broad Stage in Santa Monica for one evening only. The sold out event was very exciting considering Moreno is 87 and still performing, with tremendous passion I might add.
The voice is obviously not what it once was, but whose is. What is appealing to watch is how her body sways so gracefully to the rhythms, as she lovingly raises her arms and lets them move fluidly to convey the story.
In the 90-minute set, Moreno told stories that segued into a dozen or more songs. Some were deliciously funny with her droll humor in full force. Like all great performers, she uses the opportunity to laugh at life and at herself, pulling the audience in at every turn. Backed by sensational musicians Russell Kassoff at the piano - also musical director, Andrew Dwyer on bass and David Rokeach percussionist, Moreno threw a party in her living room and invited us all. So up close and accessible is this grande lady!
One very humorous story was about a Brooklynese senior lady named Beatrice who spotted Moreno on a street in New York when she was there to film the new West Side Story. She came over to Moreno, tucked her arm in the crevice of Moreno's arm, thumping against her right breast as she talked and said, "Are you going to do that movie? Taking some dance lessons to get ready?" Moreno replied, "You don't think I am going to play Anita again, do you?" "Dawling, you are ageless."* Yes, she assuredly is and still beautiful.
One of my favorite anecdotes was about a young girl who tries to interest her boss romantically, has a few dates with him and falls madly in love...but, he's just not the type to keep a relationship going, which led to the heartbreaking ballad "I Won't Send Roses" from Jerry Herman's Mack and Mabel. Moreno talked about her favorite Broadway shows like doing Gypsy with her daughter Fernanda. This led to a fun impression of Ethel Merman singing every word of her songs directly out front to the audience with Jack Klugman wincing at every note. She also mentioned Googie Gomez from The Ritz, that was created by Moreno herself and won her a Tony. Then there was her engagement in London when she took over Norma Desmond from Petula Clark. There followed "New Ways to Dream" and "With One Look."
Another segment had Moreno gossiping about her early days at 20th Century Fox, her crush on Van Johnson and her affair with Marlon Brando. She was very young, and he, of course, manipulated her. She cried when she discovered another woman's lingerie in his room and stopped seeing him. The audience laughed heartily when she added, "I loved him so, I couldn't breathe. He too was in love ... with himself." She accepted a date with Elvis from Colonel Parker and found him dull. However, news of their dating infuriated Brando and he went into a jealous rage, tossing chairs against the wall. Moreno had her revenge.
Then came the wonderful story about meeting the love of her life, Dr. Lenny Gordon, marrying him and buying a dream home in Northern California. They were married 45 years until his death in 2010. This lovely story segued to "The Folks Who Live On the Hill."
Moreno did an all Spanish album entitled Una Vez Mas a couple of years back produced by Emilio Estefan. As very special guest she brought out Spanish guitarrist Jose Antonio Rodriguez who accompanied her on "En Aranjuez Con Tu Amor". What a treat to hear this magnificent classically trained musician!
She closed the show with a Puerto Rican Christmas song with maracas in hand to the style of an "Aguinaldo" that means "bonus". It signifies how the holiday is extra special for Puerto Ricans who passionately look forward to celebrating it every year.
Rita Moreno is a class act. As we all know, she is a stunning actress who danced and sang her way into our hearts in the original West Side Story as Anita. Now she has not a cameo, but a real part in Spielberg's all new version of the classic that will bow at Christmas 2020. It was a privilege to see Moreno onstage once more. She truly enjoys "Being Alive." Thank heavens, for our sake. she's still "...Got a Lot of Living To Do."
*Forgive me, for all quotes used in this review are not exact, but hopefully close enough to convey the substance and color of what was said.
(photo credit: Austin Hargrave)