How West Side Story’s Anita set US theatre alight

In the films, for example, Anita sings: “Buying on credit is so nice.” Bernardo responds: “One look at us and they charge twice.” In the Broadway lyrics, she dismisses Puerto Rico as an “island of tropical diseases” but says “I like the island Manhattan – smoke on your pipe and put that in!”

But Anita has the last word in the song in both the films and the stage show. When one character sings about how they will return to Puerto Rico and get a big cheer, Anita’s tart riposte is, “Everyone there will have moved here.”

Later, she tells Bernardo: “I’m an American girl now. I don’t wait.” She won’t be anybody’s obedient little woman, another reason audiences have taken to her through the various versions.

In an interview with the New York Post, Ariana DeBose said of Anita: “She’s a beacon of self-respect and agency. She speaks her mind. Those kinds of characters were typically described as ‘difficult women’.”

She is also – arguably – a more tragic figure than Maria. Her boyfriend is murdered, she comes close to being gang-raped by the Jets and she is indirectly responsible for Tony’s death.

The two movie Anitas were among the many stars yesterday paying tribute to Rivera, a two-time Tony Award winner and a recipient of America’s highest civilian honour, the Medal of Freedom. “To be in her presence was to behold greatness,” said DeBose on Instagram. “Chita Rivera is eternal,” Moreno wrote on the same plaform. And, for fans of musicals, so is the iconic, trailblazing character of Anita that Chita Rivera helped to create.

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