Sonia Manzano (b. June 12, 1950) is an actress who played Maria on Sesame Street from the show's third season in 1971 until her retirement in Season 45 in 2015. She has also written for the show and authored several books including a memoir Becoming Maria: Love and Chaos in the South Bronx released in August 2015.
In addition to her portrayal of Maria, Manzano showed her versatility in pantomime segments, impersonating Charlie Chaplin's "The Tramp" in several segments. She also played Wanda Falbo's mother, and like other cast members, frequently narrated film inserts.
Born in Manhattan to Puerto Rican parents, Manzano attended the High School for the Performing Arts as a teenager. While going to college at Carnegie Melon University, she originated the eponymous role of Sonia in the off-Broadway musical Godspell (appearing on its original cast album as well), and continued to play the role through her first year on Sesame Street. She became part of the increasingly ethnically diverse cast and recalled that "It was such a social force... I never wanted to be on a kids’ show, but I always wanted to be on Sesame Street."
Manzano has received two Emmy award nominations for Outstanding Performer in a Children's Television Series and received the 2002 Hispanic Heritage Award for education, in addition to other awards and shows of recognition.
Married to Richard Reagan, president of the Norcross Wildlife Foundation, Manzano gave birth to daughter Gabriela Rose Reagan in 1988, a year before Maria gave birth to Gabi. Her real-life daughter played the part from Season 21 through Season 24.
The majority of Manzano's screen acting career has been spent on Sesame Street and related projects (including both Follow That Bird and The Adventures of Elmo in Grouchland) as Maria, and voicing some characters including Smart Tina and Rosita's Abuela. She also made appearances as herself in the documentaries Sesame Street Unpaved and A&E Biography: Sesame Street. Her other credits run the gamut, and include bit parts in the Michael Winner action films Death Wish (as a grocery store clerk annoyed by Jeff Goldblum) and Firepower (with James Coburn, as a stewardess). In television, she guest starred on B. J. and the Bear starring Greg Evigan (as Chattanooga in the 1981 episode "Snow White and the Seven Lady Truckers"), on Law & Order in the 2004 episode "Hands Free." She voices the recurring role of Rosa Casagrande on the Nickelodeon animated series The Loud House and its spin-off The Casagrandes. On stage, she performed in The Vagina Monologues and The Exonerated. On radio, she has been a frequent narrator for the NPR dramatized fiction series Selected Shorts.
Manzano announced her retirement from Sesame Street in June 2015 and discussed her decision with various media outlets while promoting her memoir. The Daily Beast explained that "leaving Sesame Street was a move Manzano had been planning for years—she just hadn’t gotten around to picking a date. But with fewer episodes and fewer human-driven segments being produced each season, along with an ever-expanding cast of Muppets, she had begun to feel that there was “less to go around” for each cast member." In 2019, Manzano appeared in character as Maria for a live appearance with Alan Muraoka (Alan) at the grand opening of Sesame Place's newly-renovated Sesame Street Neighborhood. She also reprised the role for the specials Sesame Street's 50th Anniversary Celebration and Coming Together: Standing Up to Racism.
In the 1980s, Manzano tried her hand at script writing, and became a key member of the Sesame Street writing staff through season 33. She shared several Emmy awards with the writing staff, and scripted a number of Sesame videos, including Sesame Street Visits the Hospital, Sing, Hoot & Howl with the Sesame Street Animals, and The Best of Elmo. Other writing credits include episodes of the Nickelodeon animated series Little Bill, a parenting column for Sesameworkshop.org, an essay in the Marlo Thomas anthology Thanks & Giving All Year Long, and the 2004 children's book No Dogs Allowed, adapted as a stage musical in 2010. Manzano is also the creator and executive producer of Alma's Way, an animated series from Fred Rogers Productions that premiered on PBS in 2021.
Manzano wrote the following segments, song lyrics, and episodes of Sesame Street:
- Waiter Grover plans a grandmother's surprise party (First: Episode 1958)
- The Count works as an elevator operator (First: Episode 1970)
- Cookie Monster's nightmare. (First: Episode 2027)
- Maria as Chaplin falls in love with a painting at the art museum (First: Episode 2033)
- Robin Williams showing Elmo a stick (First: Episode 2835)
- Whoopi Goldberg and Hoots the Owl being proud (First: Episode 2835)
- Monsterpiece Theater: "Monsters of Venice" (First: Episode 2836)
- Elmo appears at the top and bottom of the TV screen (First: Episode 2999)
- A diva sings "The Alphabet Song" (First: Episode 2964)
- Big Bird's Video Postcards
- Humphrey and Baby Natasha teach STOP and GO (First: Episode 3122)
- A harried bird visits a tree (First: Episode 3247)
- Elmo and Slimey in an apple (First: Episode 3359)
- Gordon reads the story of "The Turtle and the Rabbit" (First: Episode 3387)
- New material for "You Made Me Love You" (First: Episode 3456)
- New material for Ray Charles singing "Believe in Yourself" (First: Episode 3473)
- New material for Elmo and Zoe singing "Share" (First: Episode 3489)
- Ernie makes Bert's hat the same (First: Episode 3973)
- Kofi Annan Helps Out (First: Episode 3991)
- Number of the Day: #2 (First: Episode 3992)
- Maria has coffee with Supreme Court Justice Sonia Sotomayor (First: Episode 4280)
- "Busy Getting Better All the Time"
- "(Come on Out and) Share!"
- "Cross It Out"
- "Don't Be a Tough Nut to Crack"
- "Don't Litter"
- "Muppets Rhyme in School"
- "My Family's Doin' Just Fine"
- "Thinking of You"
- "Twice as Nice"
- "We Are the Same"
- "Write It Down"
- "You Gotta Be Patient (To Be a Patient)"
- "You Say Hola and I Say Hola"
The Academy of Television Arts and Sciences Foundation interviewed Manzano in 2004 for the Archive of American Television. The hour and a half interview was posted on YouTube in 2008.
- AARP "Diversity, Family, Languages: Birds of a Feather" by Teresa Burney, April 2003
- The Daily Beast "Why Maria Left Sesame Street" by Melissa Leon, September 8, 2015
- episode scripts