‘West Side Story’ star Ariana DeBose makes ‘SNL’ hosting debut

“It is great to be here representing not only the Latino community as an Afro-Latina, but also the Broadway community,” DeBose said during her opening monologue

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Ariana DeBose’s stardom continues to rise in 2022 following a career year for the actress and singer, who received critical acclaim for her performance as Anita in the 2021 hit remake of West Side Story.

DeBose, 30, now adds “Saturday Night Live host” to her growing list of accomplishments, opening her Jan. 15 debut on the popular sketch comedy show by joining cast member Kate McKinnon in performing a medley of songs from the musical.

“Now, not many people know this, but West Side Story is actually based on another classic tale of star-crossed lovers — 90 Day Fiancé,” DeBose quipped at the start of her opening monologue, before shouting out her mixed Black and Latino heritage.

“It is great to be here representing not only the Latino community as an Afro-Latina, but also the Broadway community,” the actress said. “Obviously, Broadway has been through a lot these last past couple of years … but we are a community that perseveres.”

“I believe Broadway changes lives. I mean, hey, it changed mine, and Broadway has this magical ability to bring people together,” she added, hinting that the audience could “all use a little Broadway right now” before McKinnon entered to help perform a mash-up of “Tonight” and “I Feel Pretty.” 

The pair returned later in the episode to parody two Cornell University lecturers claiming to have found poetry scrolls written by the ancient Greek poet Sappho, who was native to the island of Lesbos and became known for her poems about women.

In another sketch, DeBose remixed well-known song lyrics from the classic musical The Sound of Music, crooning: “‘Doh,’ a thing that Homer Simpson says, ‘Ray,’ a movie with Jamie Foxx…”

DeBose also acted in a sketch featuring Chris Redd’s swagger-filled performance of the New York City’s recently-elected mayor, Eric Adams. “He will kick your ass,” warned DeBose in character as Adams’ press secretary. 

LOS ANGELES, CALIFORNIA – DECEMBER 08: Ariana DeBose attends The Hollywood Reporter 2021 Power 100 Women in Entertainment, presented by Lifetime at Fairmont Century Plaza on December 08, 2021 in Los Angeles, California. (Photo by Kevin Winter/Getty Images for The Hollywood Reporter)

DeBose seemed elated after the announcement that she would be hosting SNL‘s first episode of 2022, posting on Twitter about her then-upcoming appearance: “I’m hosting @nbcsnl. Hold please while I go collect my extremities, as I have exploded from excitement and sensible fear.”

DeBose’s role in Steven Spielberg‘s high-profile reimagining of West Side Story may be her largest to date — the film has earned $49 million at the box office worldwide since its December release, and DeBose won a Golden Globe for Best Supporting Actor for her role.

The actress also has an extensive background on stage — the North Carolina native first came into national attention as a contestant on Fox’s dance competition series So You Think You Can Dance back in 2009. 

DeBose was nominated for a 2018 Tony Award for Best Featured Actress in a Musical for Summer: The Donna Summer Story, playing the titular character. She’s also appeared in Broadway musicals Hamilton, Motown The Musical, A Bronx Tale and Bring It On: The Musical and currently stars in the Apple TV+ musical comedy series Schmigadoon!

theGrio’s Matthew Allen contributed to this report.

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