On The Broad Stage in Santa Monica, November 9, 2019 a one-of-a-kind evening began with Jazz pros Russell Kassoff, Musical Director/Pianist extraordinaire, cool percussionist and bassist, David Rokeach and Andrew Dwyer, settling the audience into what was to be a treasured and intimate Evening with Rita Moreno.
A vase of white flowers artfully placed on the baby grand heralded what was to come. Without fanfare, in a sleek white sequined gown and hot pink jacket, black beaded necklace and earrings embellishing her thick silver bob, the exquisite, multi talented, multi-awarded star, Rita Moreno, floated across the stage, placing herself center beside her prop for the evening…a music stand. She then proceeded to charm and excite the audience for an hour and a half worth of “life”. Her personal, bewitching and meaningful material, seasoned with experience and Latin spice, held the audience captive with each nuanced lyric and story. Moreno, warned of the rough dry L.A. air…but her dexterity and flair ceded any concerns that came after the mention.
Her prologue did not shy away from the “lust of her life,” Marlon Brando, and in “Folks who live on the Hill” invited us to settle in the contentment and warmth of her marriage to Lenny Gordon, the “love of her life” who gave her their daughter Fernanda.
Her “Brazil” in Spanish with a charming scat interlude and parrot calls transported us to the Shangri-la of her memory. Then with facile guile, she gently transitioned us to “Diva” tales about Ethel Merman and Norma Desmond of “Sunset Boulevard,” among others…holding us like children in her grasp.
As one of the special gifts of the evening, Moreno invited the brilliant classical guitarist from Spain, Jose Antonio Rodriguez, to accompany her in Joaquin Rodrigo’s Concerto de Aranjuez. The melding of voice, guitar and melody was a stunning moment in this eclectic evening.
However, as her Finale, Moreno had the audience echo her in a Puerto Rican Christmas tune, complete with maracas, which brought everyone to their feet. Like all good entertainers, she left all wanting more. And with open disbelief, she answered the question most audience members had in mind. She claimed her age of 87, a surprise to her also. This declaration made this night unique, one we knew we must savor. It was an opportunity to experience this classy, inclusive and dazzling artist. Moreno knows how to transport the audience to a gentler kinder world and does so giving of her talent and humanity. See her if and when you can. It will be an evening to remember.
Written by Joanne DiVito for LA Dance Chronicle, November 12, 2019.
To visit The Broad Stage website, click here.