Rita Moreno, the next Nevada Ballet Theatre Woman of the Year, is on the phone from the Fountainblue Hotel in Miami, where she is to receive the Brandon Tartikoff Legacy Award at the annual NATPE convention.
As she awaits her next award, Moreno relaxes and does a little business.
“I had a conference call with Steven Spielberg yesterday,” she says casually. “It went very, very well. He’s amazing. Terrific.”
You hear that and don’t even flinch. Moreno is one who can casually mention Spielberg and it makes complete sense. One of just 15 performers to win the EGOT linuep of prestigious awards (Emmy, Grammy, Oscar, Tony), Moreno is cast in the upcoming reboot of “West Side Story.” Spielberg is directing.
Moreno, who won a Best Supporting Actress Oscar for her role of Anita in the 1961 original, is cast as Valentina, which is described as an expanded version of the character Doc, the owner of the corner store where Tony (portrayed by Ansel Elgort) is employed. Moreno is also executive producer. Filming starts this summer.
But before then, we dance.
Moreno is to be honored as NBT’s Woman of the Year in the company’s annual Black and White Ball on Saturday night at Aria. Moreno joins such past entertainment luminaries as Celine Dion, Rita Rudner, Marie Osmond, Priscilla Presley, Mitzi Gaynor, Florence Henderson, Debbie Allen, Olivia Newton-John and Vanessa Williams. Last year’s honoree was The Cromwell and Caesars Palace star chef and author Giada De Laurentiis.
“Oh, it’s just so lovely,” Moreno said of the upcoming honor. “I’m really looking forward to supporting NBT, and supporting dance.”
More highlights from my chat with the 87-year-old entertainment legend.
She is having a great time working with Norman Lear on the new version of “One Day at a Time” on Netflix: “He’s astonishing, just astonishing,” Moreno says. “He’s the old fart on the show (laughs), but he still goes to the office every day, he’s totally involved in the show. I mean, what else can you say? He’s a legend and I’m having a ball with it.”
She remains proud of her work the children’s series “The Electric Company,” which aired on PBS in the 1970s: “It was great fun to do, but extremely hard work,” Moreno says. “We worked like dogs all day long, and near the end of the day we’d pre-record the next day’s shoot. But you look at who was on that show, I mean, Morgan Freeman? Hattie Winston? Joan Rivers and Zero Mostel were doing voice-overs. It was filled with stars and great special effects and important messages.”
She (or rather, her gown) received negative reviews in her debut on the Strip in 1958, opening for lounge great Joe E. Lewis: “This was at the El Rancho, so it was a loooong time long ago,” Moreno says. “I was given a review that was a disaster, and the guy writing it didn’t like my gown. I was singing and dancing but my gown was crappy. So I got a new gown, designed by a professional, and wrote the reviewer — I can’t remember who he was — and invited him back. I got a great review then. My act hadn’t changed, but my gown did (laughs).”
She still loves dance: “It’s one of our greatest arts, but more than dance, I love dancers,” she says. “It’s the legs, right? Even more than the legs, it’s the calves. I tell you, I can spot a dancer from across the room. I’ll find the dancers (laughs).”
She still loves to dance … kind of: “At my age, I call it moving,” she says. “I move around, I move to the music. But to me, it’s still dance.”
John Katsilometes’ column runs daily in the A section. His PodKats podcast can be found at reviewjournal.com/podcasts. Contact him at email@example.com. Follow @johnnykats on Twitter,@JohnnyKats1 on Instagram.