Getting to Know Her: Life Without Makeup, Rita Moreno's Biographical Show, Opens Sept. 7

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07 Sep 2011

Rita Moreno and Salvatore Vassallo
Rita Moreno and Salvatore Vassallo
Kevin Berne

The California world premiere of Rita Moreno: Life Without Makeup, a music-kissed biographical show created specifically for the Oscar, Emmy, Grammy and Tony Award winner, opens Sept. 7 following previews from Sept. 2 at Berkeley Repertory Theatre.

The show written by Rep artistic director Tony Taccone and staged by David Galligan, also includes two dancers who perform with Moreno — Ray Garcia and Salvatore Vassallo. Broadway scenic designer Anna Louizos helps create the world, and music director Cesar Cancino and choreographer Lee Martino sweeten it.

Moreno famously won the Academy Award for playing Anita in the film "West Side Story." Moreno returns to Berkeley Rep for the first time since a sold-out run in The Glass Menagerie.

Rita Moreno: Life Without Makeup plays Berkeley Rep's Roda Theatre through Oct. 30 in Berkeley, CA. 

In addition to Cancino (piano), the band includes Sascha Jacobsen (bass), Alex Murzyn (reeds) and David Rokeach (percussion). The creative team also includes Annie Smart (costume design), Alexander V. Nichols (lighting and video design) and Phil Allen (sound design).



Taccone said in a statement, "It's fantastic to have Rita back on our stage. Her life story is both improbable and inspirational, so I've been trying to talk her into telling it for years. Once she embraced the idea, she threw herself into the task with the full measure of her talent and intelligence. The result is both entertaining and revealing — and it's particularly moving for anyone who was born into difficult circumstances and strives for more. As a writer, it's been great to work with such a skilled storyteller, and I'm sure our audience will be delighted by the result."

Moreno said, "It is great to be surrounded by such a supportive group of talented and dedicated people. I am amazed how Tony…could fit 79 years of living into two hours yet capture the excitement, sadness, humor, surprise, and verve with which it was lived. Sharing my life in this place is fitting. After all, Berkeley is my port of call."

The show is neither musical nor cabaret, but it does reference a number of songs, including "Dream" Johnny Mercer, "Stormy Weather" by Harold Arlen and Ted Kohler, "Broadway Rhythm (Theme)" by Arthur Freed and Nacio Herb Brown, "This Is All I Ask" by Gordon Jenkins, "The Way He Makes Me Feel" by Michel Legrand and Marilyn and Alan Bergman, "Mambo" and "America" by Leonard Bernstein and Stephen Sondheim, plus other numbers.

Moreno made her Broadway debut at age 13 in Skydrift, appeared in more than 40 feature films (including "Carnal Knowledge," "The Four Seasons" and "Singin' in the Rain"), on TV series, on London's West End and in clubs, concerts and regional theatres.

The Puerto Rican-born actress (her given name is Rosita Dolores Alverio) won the 1975 Tony Award for Best Featured Actress in a Play for her turn as Googie Gomez in The Ritz. She played Sister Peter Marie Reimondo in the dark prison TV drama "Oz." In 1956, she played anguished concubine Tuptim in the film "The King and I." She won Emmys for her work on "The Muppet Show" and "The Rockford Files," and a Grammy for "The Electric Company Album."

The executive producers of Rita Moreno: Life Without Makeup are John and Helen Meyer and Jean and Michael Strunsky; the production sponsors are the East Bay Community Fund, the Bernard Osher Foundation New Play Development Fund, and the Ira and Leonore Gershwin Philanthropic Fund.

During her run in Berkeley Rep's Master Class in 2004, she was awarded the Presidential Medal of Freedom, the highest honor given to a civilian in commemoration of a lifetime of meritorious service. In 2010, President Obama awarded her the National Medal of Arts.

Director Galligan most recently directed My Trip Down the Pink Carpet, written by and starring Leslie Jordan, Off-Broadway and in London.

Taccone, a busy director, recently started playwriting; two of his scripts are premiering this year: Rita Moreno: Life Without Makeup and Ghost Light, a co-production between Berkeley Rep and the Oregon Shakespeare Festival. Taccone commissioned Tony Kushner's Angels in America, co-directed its world premiere at the Mark Taper Forum, and has collaborated with Kushner on seven projects including Brundibar and Tiny Kushner.

For tickets or information, call (510) 647-2949 or toll-free at (888) 4-BRT-Tix, or visit berkeleyrep.org.