West Side Story
It’s been said that Anita is West Side Story; she’s one of the most iconic musical-theater characters on screen, thanks to Rita Moreno’s indelible performance in the 1961 film. In Steven Spielberg and Tony Kushner’s remake, Broadway veteran Ariana DeBose was tasked with reimagining the role, bringing her to life for a new generation. And bring her to vibrant, ambitious, fiercely loving life she did, and she did it all with fire.
Her Anita bristles and bustles. When she dances, every step, every spin, every look has intention. She moves with feeling and personality. DeBose crafts a young woman who is alive in every fiber, in every frame. In a kitchen scene with Anita; her lover, Bernardo; her surrogate daughter, Maria; and Chino, the suitor she intends for Maria, the actress puts on a clinic of nonverbal — or plus-verbal — communication. The way she shifts tones and tactics and deploys inflections, the way she simply looks at others, tells us everything about the relationships, statuses and motivations in the room.
While the Tony nominee may be most remembered for her electric dancing here, it’s perhaps her finest acting moment that cements the performance’s greatness. In the difficult number “A Boy Like That,” she manages the musical’s most treacherous hairpin turn, as she launches from grief-fueled rage and lands tenderly on loving compassion. This unforgettable Anita lives because of DeBose’s unique gifts.
We are pleased to confer on Ariana DeBose LAFCA’s award for Best Supporting Actress.
— Michael Ordoña