The League of Professional Theatre Women (Kelli Lynn Harrison & Lisa Rothe, Co-Presidents), presented the final Oral History event of their 2017-18 season with two-time Tony Award winner Chita Rivera on Monday, May 7th to a packed house.
Produced by Co-Chairs Pat Addiss and Sophia Romma, in partnership with the New York Public Library for the Performing Arts, Ms. Rivera talked about her life and illustrious career with Broadway World’s lead correspondent, Richard Ridge, host of Backstage with Richard Ridge.
Rivera began her stage career with Call Me Madam, which she almost didn’t addition for, but they offered her $250 a week to go on the road with Elaine Stritch. It was her first job with Jerome Robbins.
In Can Can with Gwen Verdon, Ms. Verdon gave her courage to find out who she really was. She ended up getting a call by Cy Coleman, Bob Fosse and Gwen asking her to cover Charity on the road. She went on to do the movie with Paula Kelly and Shirley Maclaine. She gushed over how Paula could jump.
In winning the role of Anita, Rivera didn’t know she could sing. Leonard Bernstein, taught her, her part on the piano in his apartment. Rivera did not realize they were a show until the Washington, D.C. run of West Side Story, when her song received thunderous applause and stopped the show. “We didn’t know what to do with that,” Rivera stated.
Jerome Robbins, “had all the answers, as far as I was concerned.”
Rivera was thrilled to know and work with John Kander, Fred Ebb and Terrence McNally, all of whom she said “knew things about me, I didn’t know myself”. Ms. Rivera’s greatest joy came when John Kander gave her, her very own vamp with “All That Jazz.”
In talking about Nine, Rivera swooned about Antonio Banderas, “Everything you dreamt about Antonio Banderas was true.”
In working on her piece A Dancer’s Life, Chita stated “God has a way of showing you what you have. Music means everything to me .”
In The Visit, with Roger Rees she found a new friend she lost way too soon.
“In Kiss of The Spiderwoman, I felt fragmented, until I realized she lived in Brent Carvers mind. This was a story I wanted to make sure was heard.”
“Don’t lose your sense of humor!” is the quote Ms. Rivera lives her life by. In 1986, while in Jerry’s Girls, Ms Rivera’s leg was broken. She didn’t learn until after the X-rays were taken, that she had suffered a broken tibia and fibula. It would take two operations and 16 screws. “Every single day you are different. Laying on that bed, I was watching my body mend itself. I’ve been in the business for a long time, and it’s been very good to me, so I would just like to tell the universe ‘Thank You’”.
Despite working more than 60 years on Broadway, Chita Rivera never thought she would receive a lifetime achievement Tony Award, much less one alongside Andrew Lloyd Webber. But if you ask Ms. Rivera what her most treasured production is that would be her daughter Lisa Mordente, a singer, dancer and choreographer in her own rights.
Ms Rivera was touching, personable and above everything else, hilarious. I wish one of the producers in the league would create a comedy around this talented artist. Now that would sell out as well.
Thank-you to the League of Professional Theatre Women for an amazing event.