Rita Moreno Shares the West Side Story Lyric That Almost Made Her Quit

The living legend, Rita Moreno, is experiencing a lot of emotions lately

Photo: Wikimedia/John Ferguson

Photo: Wikimedia/John Ferguson

The living legend, Rita Moreno, is experiencing a lot of emotions lately. One minute she’s feeling anxiety because the fate of her show One Day At A Time is still up in the air — there’s a chance it could still be picked up by another network. Then another minute, Moreno is being hailed and praised for her fantastic body of work. This week she will be presented with a Peabody Award. There’s just so much going on with Moreno, and as she recently said she’s “eighty-f*cking-seven.” She also, as we previously reported, will be part of the remake of West Side Story. Though as she revealed, there’s a part in the original movie that disparaged Puerto Rico so much that she told composer and lyricist Stephen Sondheim, that she would not say it and that he had to change the lyrics or she’d walk off the set.

In an interview with The Hollywood Reporter, Moreno shared about the issues she had with her significant number. In the original movie, Moreno sings “America” in which she praises living in the states, while the men sing about how terrible it is and doesn’t compare to living in Puerto Rico.

She explains that people had issues with that famous song because the lyrics portrayed Puerto Rico in a negative light.

“In defense of the original, some people choose to be offended by the things that are said about Puerto Rico — but they completely disregard that it’s one native’s point of view, which is why the number turns into a song that’s really insulting America,” Moreno said. She went on to sing a portion of it.

“‘Puerto Rico, my heart’s devotion, let it sink back in the ocean’… that one really clings to people’s hearts,” she said. “It still does. But let me sing you the original three lines, “Puerto Rico, you ugly island, island of tropic diseases.’ That is venal.”

Moreno goes on to say that she told Sondheim to change that last part but was initially scared to share her opinion, especially because she was still a newcomer and wanted to be part of the film. She found the courage and spoke up. And they listened.

“I wanted this part so badly, so badly. But a few weeks after I got it, I suddenly remembered that lyric. Nobody knows this, but I said, ‘Those words won’t come out of my mouth.’ I was going to give it up on principle, not because I was brave — but because I couldn’t bear the thought of doing this to my people. But then [Stephen] Sondheim changed the lyric.”

The remake won’t be as disparaging, we don’t think so, at least because Steven Spielberg went to speak with Puerto Ricans to discuss the new version. We are so excited to see the final result.

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puerto rico Rita Moreno West Side Story
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