July 05--Storied singer, dancer and actress Rita Moreno made two appearances over a 20-year period to help save and celebrate the restoration of El Paso's Plaza Theatre.
She'll mostly be talking, not performing, when she returns to the historic movie palace for next month's Plaza Classic Film Festival.
Moreno, 81, will discuss her experiences making "West Side Story," the iconic 1961 movie musical, and the 1981 romantic comedy "The Four Seasons."
She also may stick around to sign copies of her new book, "Rita Moreno: A Memoir."
"It's sort of a homecoming in some ways," said Eric Pearson, president of the El Paso Community Foundation, which produces the film festival and brought Moreno to town for Plaza Theatre fundraisers in 1987
She performed a cabaret-style show, backed by El Paso's Mike Caranda Orchestra, in the 1987 concert, which helped the foundation reach its goal of raising $1 million to purchase the 1930 theater.
Moreno returned 20 years later to perform in celebration of the nearly $40 million restoration.
"It's absolutely gorgeous," she told the El Paso Times in a 2007 interview. "I was so impressed by the work done there and really pleased to be asked back to perform."
Pearson, who produced that 2007 show, is happy to have her back.
"It comes at a time when the theater is rated among the top 100 performing arts centers in the world," he said.
"It had its mettle tested and has proven itself as an attraction. The
film festival is just another example of that kind of success that this endeavor has brought to us in El Paso," Pearson added.
The Puerto Rican-born Moreno is one of the few performers -- and only Hispanic -- to win the Academy Award, Grammy Award, Tony Award, Emmy Award and Golden Globe Award in a career that has spanned seven decades.
She won an Oscar and Golden Globe for playing the fiery Anita in "West Side Story," which she'll discuss before a screening of the classic movie at 7 p.m. Aug. 1 at the Plaza. A limited number of $20 tickets are available.
Moreno also will talk about making "The Four Seasons" with Alan Alda and Carol Burnett at a screening at 3:30 p.m. Aug. 3. Tickets for that event cost $6.
Tickets for both of Moreno's appearances are available at the Plaza Theatre box office, Ticketmaster outlets, ticketmaster.com and 800-745-3000.
Moreno won music's Grammy Award for "The Electric Company Album," Broadway's Tony for "The Ritz" and two TV Emmys (for appearances on "The Muppet Show" and "The Rockford Files").
President George W. Bush gave her the Presidential Medal of Freedom in 2004.
"I've been trying to get her out here for three years, but the timing was wrong," said Charles Horak, the film festival's artistic director. "We got close last year, but she took August off to write her memoir."
Horak believes she is an inspiration for Latinos, one of the first Hispanic performers to break into Hollywood in the 1950s. He called her performance in "West Side Story" a "groundbreaking" role for the triple-threat talent.
"I think it will be inspiring and uplifting to audiences who've grown up here on the border," Horak said.
Festival organizers also are working with Barnes & Noble on a book signing appearance with the iconic star. "Rita Moreno is really just a generous person. She's real open with people. She's going to interact with people," Pearson said.
The festival, which runs from Aug. 1 to Aug. 11, will feature more than 80 movies, including "Close Encounters of the Third Kind," "Citizen Kane," "The Sound of Music" and "Meet Me in St. Louis."
Other guests will include Margaret O'Brien and Angela Cartwright. Cartwright was a child star on TV's "Lost in Space" in the 1960s.
Doug Pullen may be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org; 546-6397. Read Pullen My Blog at elpasotimes.com/blogs. Follow him on Twitter@ dougpullen and Facebook at facebook.com/dougpulleneptimes
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