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Rita Moreno to star as herself in 2011 solo show at Berkeley Rep

March 3, 2010 |  6:44 pm

RitaMoreno Berkeley Repertory Theatre's  2010-11 season will feature an as-yet untitled one-woman show about Rita Moreno -- starring Rita Moreno. It opens May 18, 2011, when the actress-singer will be 79.

The show will mark the playwriting debut of Tony Taccone, the longtime Berkeley Repertory artistic director who has been a top-tier stage director since 1992, when he co-directed the first complete staging of Tony Kushner's two-part epic, "Angels in America," at the Mark Taper Forum. David Galligan will direct.

Moreno lives in Berkeley and has previously starred at Berkeley Rep as Maria Callas in McNally's "Master Class" (2004) and as Amanda Wingfield in Tennessee Williams' "The Glass Menagerie" (2006).

Berkeley Rep has become known for creating a new wave of rock musicals that eschew the "jukebox musical" greatest hits formula to weave stories around cohesive works by highly credentialed rockers both famous and obscure. First came "Passing Strange," the semi-autobiographical coming-of-age story by L.A.-nurtured rocker Stew (Mark Stewart). It premiered in Berkeley in 2005 and wound up on Broadway, where Spike Lee became a fan and filmed the show, with the results recently broadcast on PBS.

A stage adaptation of Green Day's "American Idiot" song-cycle was a big hit in Berkeley last year and is scheduled to begin previews on Broadway March 24. Next up is "Girlfriend," in which a story about budding love among two teenage boys has been woven around Matthew Sweet's 1991 pop-rock album of the same name. Performances begin April 9.

Working with Moreno on a show that will include songs figures to take Berkeley Rep back to a more traditional era of stage performance.

Born in Puerto Rico, then transplanted to New York City as a young girl, she became famous with her Oscar-winning turn as Anita in the 1961 film version of "West Side Story." In 1976, she won a Tony Award for best supporting actress in a play for her turn as Googie Gomez, a showgirl in a gay bathhouse in Terrence McNally's farce "The Ritz."

Moreno is a performer Republicans and Democrats can agree on: George W. Bush awarded her the Presidential Medal of Freedom, the nation's highest civilian honor, in 2004, and last week Barack Obama handed her a National Medal of Arts.

The 2010-11 season at Berkeley Rep includes two other world premieres: "Compulsion," opening Sept. 15, is a drama by Rinne Groff, based on novelist Meyer Levin's obsessive fight to get his stage version of "The Diary of Anne Frank" produced after losing the rights to dramatize the book. Oskar Eustis, artistic director of New York's Public Theater (and the co-director, with Taccone, of that 1992 "Angels in America" production), will direct. "Lemony Snicket's The Composer Is Dead" premieres Dec. 1; Taccone will direct the musical murder-mystery, scripted by children's author Lemony Snicket (real name, Daniel Handler), scored by contemporary classical composer Nathaniel Stookey, and previously done as an orchestral work by the San Francisco Symphony and the Los Angeles Philharmonic, among others.

Other shows in the season are Lynn Nottage's Pulitzer Prize-winning drama "Ruined"; Anton Chekhov's "The Three Sisters," in a new translation by playwright Sarah Ruhl; "The Great Game: Afghanistan," an evening of 12 short plays by Lee Blessing, David Edgar, Naomi Wallace and others, tracing 150 years of that nation's war-torn history; and two monologues by Mike Daisey, "The Agony and the Ecstasy of Steve Jobs" and "The Last Cargo Cult."

-- Mike Boehm


Rita Moreno's role these days is to play as many as she can

A career still going at full speed

Photo: Rita Moreno in 1996. Credit: Gary Friedman / Los Angeles Times