Rita Moreno: Life Without Makeup at Berkeley Rep.

Legendary actress Rita Moreno performs with Salvatore Vassallo (left) and Ray Garcia during dress rehearsal for the world premiere of Rita Moreno: Life Without Makeup at Berkeley Rep.Photo courtesy of kevinberne.com

RITA MORENO: LIFE WITHOUT MAKEUP: A multimedia production written by Tony Taccone, directed by David Galligan. Berkeley Rep's, Roda Theatre, 2015 Addison St., Berkeley. (510) 647-2949. www.berkeleyrep.org.


Legendary actress continues performing her popular new show through November 12!

RITA MORENO: A Puerto Rican Girl Makes Good

It is apparent that Tony Taccone and Berkeley Rep have an ongoing love affair with the magnetic Rita Moreno who has won every major acting award including the Oscar, Golden Globe, Emmy and Grammy. On opening night these trophies were on display in the lobby of the Rhoda Theater, closely guarded by two knowledgeable gentlemen who are quite conversant with and willing to discuss how they were won. That the love affair is not limited to the Rep is abundantly clear from the very appreciative audience that spontaneously rose to their feet in unison for her standing ovation.

Berkekley Rep’s production team is famous for their ingenious and entertaining production values that add immensely to the totality of an evening. Yes, the diminutive Rita Moreno, dominates the stage with charm, grace, superb comic timing and intelligence but is also aided greatly by the visuals, musical backup and two male dancers. When she starts the show detailing her journey from Puerto Rico to New York at age 5 with her mother aboard ship with the name that translates from Spanish to English as “Stupid Face” she has grabbed the audience by the heart and never let’s go for the two entrancing hours with one intermission. She always remembered the words of her five-time married mother, in thick Hispanic accent, “Keep, movin’ forward” and she did.

Interspersed with the trials, tribulations, successes and failures of her life off the big screen, stage and TV (without makeup), are skits and dances of some of her great successes. The evening unfolds mainly chronologically with the exception that she saves her dance sequence of “America” from West Side Story late in the evening. One that brought a roar from the gay contingent was re-enactment of her role as Googie Gomez, a third-rate Puerto Rican entertainer in The Ritz Bath House for which she won a Tony and Golden Globe award.

Serious demeaning experiences with the moguls of Hollywood and her difficulty developing relationships with men (she had a arduous crush on Marlon Brando), and being cast in ethnic roles led to serious depression and an overdose of sleeping pills. Leaving Hollywood behind she ventured into TV when it was in its infancy. She became a big hit in a children’s show The Electric Company that aired from 1971-77. That show demanded frequent changes of character and costume and a projected clip with Morgan Freeman is hysterical. For a 79 year old lady, Rita Moreno still is able to do a creditable dance especially when supported by Ray Garcia and Salvatore Vassallo who are agile dancers.

There are some obvious questions that writer Taccone has wisely left unanswered keeping a positive spin on Moreno’s life story. The show is fast paced keeping up with the vivacious Moreno. Anna Louizo’s set evokes images of the cities in which Moreno has lived while Alexander V. Nicholas’s videos and lighting keep up with the story line. Annie Smart costumes are a marvel.

Hopefully, this review will whet your appetite for taking a trip to Berkeley and be thrilled by this spectacular production that has all the ear marks of being Broadway bound.

Kedar K. Adour, MD

Courtesy of www.theatreworldinternetmagazine.com