Rita Moreno on ‘West Side Story’ and the cultural legacy of the musical

At 92, Rita Moreno is not slowing down, especially not in terms of her acting career. She told us in a conversation at Times Square Towers that if acting “is my main function,” she will continue. And performing has allowed her to live a full life.

“West Side Story is a play which changed my life,” she told us. “It changed everything.” Among the many historic moments chronicled in the musical, one is remembered for the iconic line, “Tonight I want to be just like you.” This year, 50 years after the musical first opened in New York, the original cast gathered at the Disney Concert Hall on Broadway for “A One Night Only” tribute to the “West Side Story” legacy. The great actors of the time — including Celia Weston, Chita Rivera, George Chakiris, and Ann-Margret — shared old scenes and their recollection of the musical to a cheering audience.

This event was in honor of the musical’s 50th anniversary, a time that gave Moreno a chance to reflect on a time that has passed, but that she believes created lasting culture. “The musical is cultural history,” she said. “It’s stuff that was done in the theater and it’s made sense to everybody. It’s a very special piece.”

At 92, Moreno has held the stage and the camera and continues to keep up a career that has left her comfortable with her choices and remains fertile, forever seeking to play others. What advice does she have for today’s young performers? “Bring some emotion,” she said. “I have no shame in sharing my emotions.”


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