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Five Questions for Rita Moreno


Photo by Austin Hargrave

At 87, legendary performer Rita Moreno is as in-demand as ever: Her Netflix sitcom One Day at a Time is returning for its third season, and she will appear in (and produce) Steven Spielberg’s upcoming remake of West Side Story. On January 19 and 20, Moreno will put on a show at the Orinda Theatre, just a few miles from her home in the Berkeley hills. Here, the Emmy, Grammy, Oscar, and Tony award winner discusses her storied career and her life in the East Bay. 


Q: You won an Academy Award for West Side Story in 1962. What is it like to revisit that material with Steven Spielberg?

A: Never in my wildest dreams could something like this happen. [Spielberg] told me he wanted me in the movie from the get-go. When I met him in his office, he hugged me and said what an honor it was to meet me. He said, “You are the bridge to this movie.”


Q: How do you explain the success of One Day at a Time, which feels as relevant today as the original version did in the 1970s?

A: It was sheer genius to turn the original show upside down, add some salsa, and set it in this moment that we are living in. It’s not only funny, but it can grab you by your heart. A lot of that is due to the genius of [creator] Norman Lear.


Q: What is your perfect day in the East Bay?

A: I would go into Oakland, do an art walk, and have lunch. I found a wonderful little Cuban place named Caña. I had them cater my birthday party; the theme was Cuba in the 1940s. Norman Lear came, as did my friend [theater director] Tony Taccone, who had the Berkeley Rep costume department make him an outfit to look like [former Cuban president Fulgencio] Batista.


Q: One of your first movies, Singin’ in the Rain, is showing at the Orinda Theatre on January 10. What did you learn from that job?

A: I just had a small part, but I visited the set almost every day for the duration of the shoot. I learned that perseverance is the most important thing in the world when you are getting started.


Q: What can we expect from your concerts at the Orinda Theatre on January 19 and 20?

A: I love performing in an intimate venue. It’s like being in a large living room. I’ll be doing songs from the American songbook and telling stories between the songs. I’m usually pretty funny, and I can’t wait to perform so close to home. I wake up humming every morning.


For tickets to Moreno’s performance at the Orinda Theatre, visit lamorindatheatres.com.


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