Chita Rivera is a living legend and I'm thrilled and honored to have her as part of "Call Me Adam." I've had the fortunate opportunity to see Chita on Broadway in "Nine" and "Chita Rivera: A Dancer's Life." Both experiences were special for different reasons. "Nine" was my very first time getting to see Chita live on stage and "Chita Rivera: A Dancer's Life" allowed me to really learn about her life, which I found thrilling. I feel very fortunate to now have the opportunity to interview the one and only Chita Rivera!
An accomplished and versatile actress/singer/dancer, Chita Rivera has won two Tony Awards as Best Leading Actress in a Musical and received seven additional Tony nominations. She recently starred in the Broadway and touring productions of The Dancer’s Life, a dazzling new musical celebrating her spectacular career, written by Terence McNally and directed by Graciela Daniele. Chita was awarded The Presidential Medal of Freedom by President Barack Obama on August 12, 2009. She received the coveted Kennedy Center Honor in Washington, DC in December, 2002, and is the first Hispanic ever chosen to receive this award.
On October 13, 2009, Chita released a new solo studio CD entitled AND NOW I SWING (Yellow Sound label), which pays homage to her stage legacy while also displaying her passion for jazz. From classic theater songs to jazz standards, all tracks featured on this new album have received new arrangements recorded by New York’s finest musicians, reimagining some of Chita’s favorite tunes.
This past Spring, Chita recreated her starring role in The Visit, the new Kander/Ebb/McNally musical at the Signature Theatre in Arlington, VA, which originally premiered at the Goodman Theatre, Chicago in 2001. Her more recent stage appearances include starring roles in the revival of the musical Nine with Antonio Banderas on Broadway; The House of Bernarda Alba at the Mark Taper Forum in Los Angeles; Venecia, a new Argentinean play directed by Arthur Laurents at the George Street Playhouse; Reno Sweeney in Anything Goes at Paper Mill Playhouse. She also starred in the London, Las Vegas and Toronto productions of Chicago-The Musical.
For her starring role in Kiss of the Spider Woman on Broadway, Chita received the 1993 Tony Award as Best Leading Actress in a Musical, as well as the Drama Desk Award for Outstanding Achievement as an Actress in a Musical, the Outer Critics Circle Award as Outstanding Actress in a Musical, the Drama League Award for Distinguished Achievement in Musical Theatre and The Astaire Award honoring outstanding achievement in Broadway Dance. Chita first played the role of the Spider Woman in the Toronto production of the show in 1992, receiving unanimous acclaim. She then repeated her triumph in the fall of 1992 in the London production of Spider Woman, which won The Evening Standard Award as Best Musical of the Year. This was followed by the Broadway and touring productions.
Chita's performing aspirations began with ballet training at the age of 11 in her native Washington, DC. Five years later, Chita moved to New York, where she auditioned for legendary choreographer George Balanchine. Balanchine of course recognized Chita's talent and gave her a scholarship to the American School of Ballet, where she began taking classes at the same time as the dancers Edward Villella, Melissa Hayden, Allegra Kent and Maria Tallchief.
As an aspiring 17 year-old ballerina, Chita decided to accompany a friend to an audition for the chorus of Call Me Madam. Although she had no serious intention of pursuing a part in the show, Chita was cast as a principal dancer, and choreographed by Jerome Robbins. The ballet world's loss was Broadway's gain -- a future legend's theater career was born.
After completing a cross-country tour of Call Me Madam, Chita returned to New York to replace Onna White as a principal dancer in Guys and Dolls. Following Guys and Dolls, Chita joined the cast of the original Broadway company of Can-Can, in which her future co-star, Gwen Verdon, first achieved stardom.
Chita then went Off-Broadway to prove that she could do more than dance, doing so to great acclaim with her amazing performance in Ben Bagley's Shoestring Revue, in which she did the very first Marilyn Monroe impersonation. Her co-stars in The Shoestring Revue included Beatrice Arthur and Arte Johnson.
But it was not until September 26, 1957 that Chita made the transition from accomplished Broadway performer to a toast of the town Broadway star with her electric performance as Anita in the Broadway premiere of West Side Story. Chita then took some time off for the birth of her daughter, Lisa. Chita had met and married Lisa's father, dancer Tony Mordente, during the run of West Side Story.
Chita then went on to star in the London production of West Side Story, which had been postponed until Chita was ready to perform after Lisa's birth. Chita's New York success was repeated in London, and she stayed with the show there for a year. She then returned to Broadway to star as Rosie with Dick Van Dyke in the new musical, Bye Bye Birdie, in which she led the show-stopping number "Shriner's Ballet." Her rousing performance earned a Tony nomination as Best Actress. Chita then reprised her role in the London production of Bye Bye Birdie at Her Majesty's Theatre, where she first achieved London stardom in West Side Story.
Back in the US, her triumphant performance as Jenny in the national tour of The Threepenny Opera, was soon followed by the title role in the national tour of Bob Fosse's Sweet Charity. Chita was also cast in the film version of Sweet Charity, in which she played Nicky opposite Shirley MacLaine. During the filming of Sweet Charity, Chita fell in love with Los Angeles and decided to make it her home for the next seven years.
But touring theatre successes often took her from home. She played Billie Dawn in Born Yesterday and Serafina in The Rose Tattoo; she toured opposite John Raitt in Zorba; and she extended her range in such productions as Kiss Me Kate, opposite Hal Linden, Jacques Brel...., and Oliver Hailey's Father's Day. All of these productions and other projects had kept Chita away from Broadway for eight years, far too long according to her friends and colleagues Fred Ebb, John Kander, and Bob Fosse. So they lured Chita back to New York to star as Velma Kelly, opposite Gwen Verdon, in their new musical, Chicago.
But as soon as she arrived in New York, Chita discovered that Chicago's rehearsals had been postponed because director/choreographer Fosse was ill. It was then that Fred Ebb, who had written a highly-successful nightclub act for Chita in the 60's, went to work on another for her until Fosse recovered. She opened to rave reviews and capacity crowds.
Chicago opened to glorious reviews and Chita and Gwen Verdon were the toast of Broadway (1975). Both received Tony nominations as Best Actress. During the run of Chicago, Chita co-starred with Liza Minnelli for the first time, when Ms. Minnelli subbed for five weeks for an ailing Gwen Verdon.
Chita's fourth and fifth Tony nominations as Best Actress came in the early 80's with her performances opposite Donald O'Connor in Bring Back Birdie and then as the Evil Queen in Merlin, opposite Doug Henning. But it was not until 1984, when she re-united with Liza Minnelli in John Kander and Fred Ebb's new musical, The Rink, that Chita finally won her Tony as Best Actress, along with the Drama Desk Award. Chita returned to Broadway again shortly after The Rink in Jerry's Girls, co-starring with Leslie Uggams and Dorothy Loudon. In 1988, Chita toured the country (and Japan) in Can-Can, co-starring the Radio City Musical Hall Rockettes. In 2003 she received her sixth Tony nomination for Nine.
Chita's critically-acclaimed concert dates continued to play to ovations from packed houses around the world in such cities as New York, London, Monte Carlo, Los Angeles, Tokyo, Toronto, Amsterdam, San Francisco, Cannes, Chicago and San Juan among many others.
Chita has been seen regularly on television, beginning with early appearances on every major show emanating from New York including Dinah Shore, Garry Moore, Judy Garland, Carol Burnett and Ed Sullivan. Other television credits include Will & Grace, Pippin (Showtime), Kennedy Center Tonight, Broadway Plays Washington, her own Chita Plus Three (HBO), The New Dick Van Dyke Show and Live From Wolftrap. Chita is also particularly proud of her participation in the National Theater of the Deaf's presentation of The Road to Cordoba.
On Thursday, February 17, you can catch Chita live on stage in a special edition of "Jim Caruso's Cast Party" at Town Hall in New York City (123 West 43rd Street) as a special benefit for Broadway Cares/Equity Fights AIDS along with Christopher Sieber, Sally Mayes, Marilyn Maye, YouTube sensation "Miranda Sings," jazz singer Hilary Kole, R&B tenor William Blake, jazz violinist Aaron Weinstein, Natalie Douglas, Klea Blackhurst, acrobat and comedian Rudi Macaggi, and the Dueling Fiddlers. For tickets, click here!
1. Who or what inspired you to become a performer? My mother Katherine.
2. Who is the one person you haven't worked with that you would like to? Carlos Santana.
3. What do you get from performing in a concert that you don't get from performing in a Broadway show? A more personal intimate relationship with the audience.
4. What's your proudest moment? Receiving the Presidential Medal Of Freedom from President Barrack Obama, it was thrilling just to meet them.
5. Was there ever a time you thought about quitting? If so, what career would you have chosen? No, but if so, working with children around the world.
6. Favorite place to rehearse/practice for a show/concert on your own? Ripley Greer, 35th and 8th Ave.
7. Favorite way to stay in shape? Take class, and exercise with a fellow dancer.
8. Favorite skin care product? Leaf and Rusher skin care.
9. Favorite website? Don't use a computer.
10.What's the best advice you've ever received? " Stay in your own lane, focus and enjoy your work, given by my dearest friend Fred Ebb.