As the second woman, and third person ever, to win an EGOT – an Emmy, Grammy, Oscar, and Tony – Rita Moreno doesn’t need to do anything more to establish herself as a Hollywood legend. But here she is, turning 90 years old today, and gracing the big screen once more in Steven Spielberg’s West Side Story.
The latest version of the Broadway classic premiered in theaters on December 10, starring Rachel Zegler as Maria and Ansel Elgort as Tony. Former Hamilton cast member Ariana DeBose plays Anita, and while she may not be a household name just yet, her extraordinary talent ensures it will be soon. “She’s marvelous,” Moreno told Parade. “She’s a ferocious dancer. Way better than I was.”
What Rita Moreno Thinks of the New West Side Story
Watching a newcomer play your career-defining role might seem like a strange birthday present — and indeed, Moreno was reluctant to join the cast at first. “I remember saying to Steven, ‘Look, if you’re offering a cameo, I have to say no, right off the bat,’” she explained. “Playing a cameo when you’ve been a lead is just a distraction. All you’re doing is distracting people. ‘Oh look, who’s there?’”
However, Spielberg promised that he had a real role for her, and Moreno came around. She plays a new character named Valentina, who replaces the character of Doc (the man who ran the candy store where the Jets hung out).
“Valentina is a wonderful character, she’s loving, she’s warm,” Moreno said in her Parade interview. “She’s nothing like Anita at all. She is definitely an older woman. And it’s been the joy of my life to play her.”
At first, the role of Valentina might seem like nothing more than a satisfying bookend to Moreno’s career. However, it symbolizes much more: the lasting impact of her amazing career, and how she carved a path for other Latinx actors. Spielberg’s casting in the new West Side Story reflects a lot of social change, which Moreno was happy to see. In fact, Spielberg made Moreno an executive producer, ensuring that her sharp thinking would have influence.
“They really wanted to right some … should I say wrongs?” she told Vanity Fair. One big wrong, Moreno agreed, was that the original cast included very few Puerto Ricans beyond Moreno herself. “That’s what they were trying to fix and ameliorate, and I think they have done an incredible job,” she added.
Rita Moreno’s 90th Birthday Plans
There’s only one question left to answer: Having already attended the West Side Story premiere, how will Moreno celebrate her birthday? News anchor Rosanna Scotto asked her on Good Day New York what she will do to celebrate, and Moreno responded, “Everything I can!”
Moreno revealed that she’s celebrated it twice already, at two small get-togethers with friends. She also wants to have little parties all year long to keep the milestone celebration going. Nothing sounds sweeter to us. Happy birthday, Rita Moreno!