The award-winning Broadway musical made its debut on Sept. 26, 1957, and ran for a total of 732 performances before going on the road. The story, a loose retelling of Shakespeare's “Romeo and Juliet” traded warring Venetian clans for warring street gangs — one Irish/Polish and the other Puerto Rican — in New York. It was nominated for the 1957 Tony Award for Best Musical but lost out to “The Music Man.” For the stage production the fiery performance of Chita Rivera caught the attention of many, so much so that the London premiere was delayed until after she gave birth to her daughter Lisa and returned to the show. The musical was later made into a film in 1961, starring Natalie Wood and Richard Beymer. The film was nominated for 11 Academy Awards and took home 10, including best actress in a supporting role to Rita Moreno, the first Latina to take home the Oscar for her take on Anita.
(Anita, 1957 musical)
Birth Name: Dolores Conchita Figueroa del Rivero
Birthday: Jan. 23, 1933
Ethnicity: Puerto Rican, Scottish
On stage: Rivera got her start training for ballet at the age of 11 before making the leap to Broadway with an audition for a chorus part on “Call Me Madam.” She was 17 when she won the role. She followed up with parts in “Guys and Dolls,” “Can-Can,” “Seventh Heaven,” and “Mr. Wonderful,” with Sammy Davis Jr. After six years on Broadway she became a star when she was cast as Anita in the 1957 debut of “West Side Story.” During the show, she met and married dancer Tony Mordente, who was cast as Arab, one of the Jets. They later divorced. She has continued to work on Broadway and was cast as Rosie in “Bye Bye Birdie,” and Jenny in “The Threepenny Opera,” and Velma Kelly in “Chicago.” Rivera won Tony Awards for best actress in a musical for “The Rink” in 1984, and “Kiss of the Spider Woman — the Musical” in 1993. She has been nominated six other times. She also was the first Latina to receive the John F. Kennedy Honors Award, which she won in 2002.
(Anita, 1961 film)
Birth Name: Rosita Dolores Alverio
Birthday: Dec. 11, 1931
Ethnicity: Puerto Rican
On stage: Rita Moreno is one of an elite few who can say she has won an Oscar — the first Latina — an Emmy, a Tony and a Grammy. She moved with her mother from Purto Rico to New York City in 1937 and started her professional career also at the age of 11 dubbing Spanish-language versions of American films. She made her Broadway debut in 1945 in the play “Skydrift,” although it would be nearly 20 years before she returned to Broadway. Filmmaker Robert Wise, who co-directed the 1961 movie version of “West Side Story” cast Moreno, who by that time was a seasoned dancer, singer and actress, as Anita. Critics lauded her performance in the ensemble cast, adding that she outshone the only movie star in the cast, Natalie Wood, who played the movie's female lead Maria. For her performance she won the best supporting actress Oscar in 1962. Moreno also appeared in the films “Singin' in the Rain” and the “King and I.” She married Dr. Lenny Gordon in 1965; he died in 2010. Moreno continued to work in film, television and on the stage. In 1972 she won a Grammy Award for her contribution to “The Electric Company” soundtrack album. Then she won a Tony Award for best featured actress in a musical for “The Ritz” in 1976. She also has won three Emmy Awards for “The Muppet Show” and “The Rockford Files.” In 2004, the President George W. Bush awarded Moreno the Presidential Medal of Freedom.
Source: Broadway.com, Oscars.com, www.tonyawards.com, imdb.com, ibdb.com