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Groundbreaking Latina actress keeps on dancing

As Rita Moreno nears her 80th birthday, she’s singing and dancing sixnights a week in the biographical show Life Without Makeup.

As Rita Moreno nears her 80th birthday, she’s singing and dancing six nights a week in the biographical show Life Without Makeup.

Moreno, who debuted on Broadway at the age of 13 in Skydrift, won an Oscar for her portrayal of Anita in the film version of West Side Story, as well as an Emmy, a Tony, a Grammy and the Presidential Medal of Freedom for her accomplishments in the arts.

Her Anita portrayal helped other Latino artists get work in Hollywood, particularly because a non-Hispanic actress, Natalie Wood, had the lead role of Maria in West Side Story and another white actor, George Chakiris, was cast as the Puerto Rican gang leader Bernardo.

Moreno said in an interview from her home in Berkeley, Calif., that she was happy to see so many more Hispanic faces and names in film, television and theatre.

“But I love what Ricardo Montalban once said, because it was very precise,” she added, quoting the late Mexican actor. “He said one day that the door was ajar, but not completely open. And that still exists ... We have known artists in the English-speaking world that are Latin artists, but not enough.”

West Side Story comes out on Bluray Nov. 15 to celebrate its 50th anniversary. And Moreno would like to see more song and dance on screen. “I’d love to see more musicals because today they’re very rare — you barely find them,” she said.

Besides her run at The Berkeley Repertory Theatre, Moreno also plays Fran Drescher’s Jewish mother in the TV series Happily Divorced, which starts shooting its second season in January.

“I love working with Fran. She is very delicious, warm, kind ... a good person, very noble,” she said.

 
 
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