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An Evening with Rita Moreno

Legendary performer heads to Houston for a Miller Outdoor Theatre fundraising gala.

Rita Moreno (Photo courtesy)

At 91 years old, Rita Moreno is just as captivating as she was when she first joined the illustrious and select group of EGOT performers—those who have won Emmy, Grammy, Oscar and Tony awards. Moreno also earned a Peabody award, which places her among the most rarefied few PEGOT winners.

Supporters of Miller Outdoor Theatre can see Moreno up-front, in the center, and down-to-earth accessible as the special guest at the nonprofit theater’s annual fundraising gala this month.

Moreno will appear on November 16 at River Oaks Country Club for a conversation with Houston’s favorite interviewer, Ernie Manouse. She will share some of her life experiences while also raising money for one of Houston’s most iconic performance venues.

“It ends up being extremely funny because I tell great stories,” Moreno says. “What I’m hoping that the audience will get from it is that here’s this 91-year-old person who’s still going pretty strong and is filled with happiness and positive things. I hope they can understand that it’s entirely possible to age and still enjoy life. It depends on how you decide to view your life, and I have made a choice to be one of the happiest people.”

For Moreno, the decision to support Miller Outdoor Theatre was a no-brainer. Funds raised from the gala will contribute to the current $12.5 capital campaign underway to provide renovations and improvements that will greet future Miller visitors, providing the next generation of theatergoers with a modern and state-of-the art theater experience.

Since 1923, Miller Outdoor Theatre in Hermann Park has been one of Houston’s most beloved cultural treasures, a gathering place for the community and the site of thousands of memorable free performances. This is the largest “always free” program of its kind in the country. The outdoor venue for the performing arts, set on over 7 acres, has provided Houstonians and visitors with the opportunity to enjoy professional entertainment from a diverse array of genres including music, dance, theater, and film. Performances are always family-friendly, and guests can sit in the covered seating area or on the grassy hillside.

“I think what’s wonderful about the arts is that it makes every bit of use of the imagination,” Moreno emphasizes. “Imagination is something that can be very joyous. It can be dark and sad, too, but mostly it’s just joyous.”

That’s something that makes Houston’s theater atop the Hill one of the city’s best spots to visit. It provides a venue for performing-arts groups to explore the complexity of human emotions and experience—all at a price that can’t be beat. So who better to help raise funds for the venue than one of the nation’s most versatile stars?

Adept at portraying all types of characters—anything from a Latina living the American dream in West Side Story to Googie Gomez in the 1975 Terrence McNally musical and cult classic The Ritz—Moreno always knew how to entertain. It’s something that came naturally to her.

“I was one of those little girls who loved to dance to music. I used to dance for Grandpa. He would put on a record, and I would wiggle my tushy and dance around the room in Puerto Rico,” she remembers. “It was obvious that performing was what I was going to do in life. I loved it. I loved the attention. I still love the attention, and any performer who lies about that is full of bullshit.”

Never were truer words spoken, and this star has the chops to back up her claim. Moreno is a true Hollywood and Broadway legend whose 80-year career began with her Broadway debut at age 13. She dazzled on Broadway and London’s West End, appeared in more than 40 feature films, and starred in countless television shows. She received the Presidential Medal of Freedom from President George W. Bush and the National Medal of Arts from President Barack Obama.

Moreno has also been a lifelong ally to the LGBTQ community, even if she didn’t recognize it when she was young.

“I had a gay friend when I was 12 years old. I just didn’t know he was gay at the time. We were the best girlfriends in the world,” she recalls. “We just had the best time, and it never occurred to me that anything was different about him. It was perfect.”

From West Side Story’s Anita to the tell-it-like-it-is special guest for Miller Outdoor Theater’s upcoming gala, the truth-telling Moreno will always captivate her audiences. It’s what she was born to do.

To secure a table or ticket for the gala, contact Emily Gordon at Follow Miller Outdoor Theatre’s future plans and their capital campaign at

WHAT: An Evening with Rita Moreno
WHEN: November 16
WHERE: River Oaks Country Club
INFO:  email

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Sam Byrd

Sam Byrd is a freelance contributor to Outsmart who loves to take in all of Houston’s sights, sounds, food and fun. He also loves helping others to discover Houston’s rich culture. Speaking of Houston, he's never heard a Whitney Houston song he didn't like.
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