Before a showing of “West Side Story” at the United Palace Theater in February, Lin-Manuel Miranda (In the Heights), interviewed one of its stars, Tony and Academy Award winner Rita Moreno, who portrayed Anita in the film. But first they danced together, briefly.
Miranda told Playbill how much the 1961 movie means to him:
“West Side Story captures Hell’s Kitchen before Lincoln Center existed. The streets they are running through, where Lincoln Center is now, was that old neighborhood. All the tenements were razed. Priscilla Lopez lived in that neighborhood. She and her brothers are extras in the playground set in the first scene that the Jets are walking through! Matthew Lopez, her nephew, who is an incredible playwright in his own right, wrote a play about it, called Somewhere.
“….The first time I saw West Side Story, I was in sixth grade. I will never forget it because I remember that I was cast as Bernardo in our sixth grade play and so my mother rented the movie so we could watch it together… When “America” started and it was about whether to live in Puerto Rico, or live in the US – as a kid who grew up here and was sent there every summer – I was like, “Holy sh*t! ‘West Side Story’ is about Puerto Ricans?!” It really blew my mind. You know, I fell in love with Rita Moreno, as anyone does when they see that musical number, and so, that sort of never went away….
“…I ended up directing West Side Story my senior year of high school, I ended up working on the 2009 revival with Arthur Laurents and Stephen Sondheim and doing the Spanish translations for Arthur’s take on the revival. It’s been very instrumental to my life. I don’t know if there is a score that I know as well as I do that score. And Leonard Bernstein’s music is immortal. It still sounds different from every other Broadway score you’ll hear. The scope and the size of it really is incredible. It’s incredibly ambitious writing and, you know, that’s why it still stands up today. It’s still thrilling.”