If you're wondering what you want to do when you grow up, go see Rita Moreno's "Life Without Makeup," which is having its World Premiere at Berkeley Rep. Your answer, my answer, everyone's answer has to be: "I want to be just like her." It is 2011. The woman was born in 1931. Add it up. Rita Moreno is a marvel and her one woman show, with the help of two male dancers and a crackerjack four piece band, is an absolute tour-de-force.
We want to say: don't wait. She's 80. Can her knees last an entire run? Well, yes, probably, because she seems to be a freak of nature. As she tells the story of her life, beginning with coming from Puerto Rico to New York on a storm-tossed steamer in 1936, you notice that she holds on to things -- a railing, a shoulder -- and she keeps it simple. This is the beauty of her piece -- it is honest and intimate. Rita Moreno isn't trying to be 18 any more, but she can sure tell you what it felt like.
And what a story she has to tell. The MGM movie set in the '40s and '50s? Clark Gable? Elizabeth Taylor? All her auditions, all her b-movies, her successes and her failures, told with alma and corazón. Heart and soul. Plus, she's funny as hell.
In Act One we get the early days -- did she really have a long-time fling with Marlon Brando and make him jealous by dating Elvis Presley? Five years on The Electric Company with Bill Cosby and Morgan Freeman? You'd forgotten that was her bouncing around with Jack Nicholson in Carnal Knowledge? Act One is fascinating and totally absorbing, but that's only because she hasn't gotten to Act Two and West Side Story yet.
After the intermission, we hear stories about the behind-the-scenes craziness during the filming of that iconic musical -- followed by a brilliant trip through several ballet scenes using her two stage-mates as Sharks and Jets -- it doesn't get any better than this, amigos.
We still say go sooner rather than later. But go. Everything is coming up rrrrrrrrr-roses!
RATINGS: ☼ ☼ ☼ ☼ ☼
The San Francisco Theater Blog Awards Division awards Rita Moreno: "Life Without Makeup" it's highest rating: Cinco Estrellas Gordas. Five Fat Stars. Miss Moreno, her fabulous dancers (Ray Garcia and Salvatore Vassallo), the amazing band with Cesar Cancino's piano, Tony Taccone's writing and David Gallagan's perfectly staged pacing, the choreography, the costumes -- but most of all, a performer who loves every minute of the evening as much as we do -- these shows don't come along twice.
One more word: you don't have to sit up close. This is one of those rare occasions when the cheap seats will be fine. The Roda is a small theater, so higher up is fine -- but try to stay in the center.
Rita Moreno: "Life Without Makeup"
Berkeley Rep, Roda Theatre
2015 Addison Street, Berkeley
EXTENDED Through November 12