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Chita solo 2013


Chita & Gwen Verdon – original Broadway production of CHICAGO (1975)




By Rosalind Marmel, California Correspondent, February 7, 2014

It’s not too late to party with the one and only Ms. Chita Rivera as she honors us with the privilege of celebrating highlights of her remarkable career in her solo performance of CHITA: A LEGENDARY CELEBRATION. 


January 25th, 2014 was a night that will be implanted in California history. At Dodger Stadium, during a week of 85 degree F weather, the 1st ever outdoor hockey game in Los Angeles with the Anaheim Ducks beating the L.A. Kings on a regulation hockey rink with real ice, not the artificial kind, as if it were Winnipeg with minus 50 C weather , skeptics everywhere were certain that this “only in L.A.” happening was going to be a swimming event rather than a pro-hockey game. If there’s ever been a pro-hockey game going on with a beach volley ball game next to it, since hockey arenas are smaller than baseball stadiums and Californians don’t waste space, I haven’t heard of it.  As much as I wanted to see what I imagined would be the kind of total chaos that I at times consider a vacation, I decided not to attend.


Why not?  After thinking of any excuse I could, to be there, I knew in my heart that I wanted even more passionately to join a SRO group of fans of the show girl of all show girls, Ms. Chita Rivera as she celebrated her 80th birthday, despite turning 81 on January, 23rd.


The celebration took place across town at the pride of the L.A. San Fernando valley’s new architectural and acoustical wonder, the Valley Performing Arts Center, conveniently located on the campus of California State University Northridge. 


A week earlier, the Tel Aviv born, (1948), Pinchas Zukerman who at this time is in his 13th season as Music Director of The National Arts Centre Orchestra in Ottawa conducted The Royal Philharmonic Orchestra with Canada’s Juno Award -winning cellist, Amanda Forsyth as soloist.  Born in South Africa, she moved to Canada and began playing cello at age 3. She became a protege of William Pleeth in London. Later she studied with Harvey Shapiro at the Julliard School.  After two seasons with the Toronto Symphony Orchestra, she became the youngest principal ever selected by the Calgary Philharmonic Orchestra, a position she held for 6 years.


The night before, Anthony E. Cantrell, PhD, directed, IT’S SHOWTIME FOLKS, celebrating 60 years of the late Bob Fosse’s works.


Let’s get back to Chita Rivera. I am just giving you an idea of what you can attend at The Valley Performing Arts Center. There’s something for everyone almost nightly.


Keep reading, snow birds and cold weather chickens...I’m one of them, sneezing and coughing... (that night the temp dropped to 65 F).... Chita Rivera isn’t even pondering the idea of slowing down. She was in Northridge that night directly from her sold-out smash concert in New York, stopping en route, to do her solo performance in minus 20 F weather in La Crosse, Wisconsin. With tour dates in between, she will be continuing her celebration to which you are all invited on February 21st at the McCallum Theatre in Palm Desert, California.  From there she goes to the Fairmont in San Francisco on February 23rd, then to the Harris Center in Folsom, California for performances on February 24th and 25th, in case she gets bored with getting a bit of rest before entertaining you Floridian snow birds at The Aventura Arts and Cultural Center on March 7th in Aventura, Florida. There will be plenty of birthday cake.  Her cake that night had 1 candle. She said that she feared that more might burn the place down. Instead she set us on fire with her feisty, fiery and yet totally relaxed performance. 


“A girl turns 80 once in her life, thank God,” Ms. Rivera said, “and I want everyone there as proof.”


I first saw Chita perform one of her two Tony-Award winning roles for Best Actress in a Musical, in 1993 as she danced, acted and sang one of the most emotionally charged and challenging roles I’ve seen in KISS OF THE SPIDER WOMAN, produced by former Winnipegger, Garth Drabinsky and the former Livent production company, never dreaming that over 20 years later I would see her looking not a day older with no less energy. Her voice is as powerful as ever. Her dancing is that of a gifted teenager. Her smile, laughter and demeanor are magnetic.


Chita first played the role of the Spider Woman in 1992 in the Toronto production receiving unanimous acclaim. That fall she repeated her triumphant role in the London production, which won The Evening Standard Award as Best Musical of the Year. From London she starred in the role on Broadway and continued with touring productions.  


This show highlights signature moments from her illustrious career including songs from WEST SIDE STORY, SWEET CHARITY, KISS OF THE SPIDER WOMAN, BYE, BYE BIRDIE, CHICAGO, THE RINK and more. She won her 1st Tony Award for Best Actress in a musical in 1984 for her performance in THE RINK co-starring with Liza Minnelli. . Ms. Rivera received 7 additional Tony nominations. She’s only 81 so by no means will a total of nine nominations necessarily be her grand total. 


The evening included a special tribute to her cherished friends, John Kander and Fred Ebb, Leonard Bernstein, Charles Strouse, Jerry Herman and Stephen Sondheim. I was most awed by her performance of the song, “Carousel”, from JACQUES BREL IS ALIVE AND LIVING IN PARIS. The live orchestra accompanying her was brilliantly conducted by the famed award-winning composer, lyricist,orchestrator, arranger and musician, Michael Croiter.  The next night he was up for a Grammy Award as the producer of the original Broadway cast recording of MATILDA. Cindy Lauper won for KINKY BOOTS. It must have been a close vote. The arrangement of “Carousel” with dazzling lighting effects and percussion made me feel as though I was actually riding on a carousel.  Had I not known better when I briefly closed my eyes, it seemed as if Ms. Rivera and her accompanists and the rest of us, were all with Brel in Paris.  I would go to see the show again even if just for the performance of, “Carousel.”  Her finale performance of, “All That Jazz”, from CHICAGO, when she played the role of Roxie Hart, opposite Gwen Verdon and later Liza Minelli in the original 1975 stage production commanded one of the evening’s many standing ovations and an encore performance of, “Circle of Friends.”  Ms. Rivera talked about how blessed she feels to have had and have the circle of friends she does.  We felt blessed spending the evening in that intimate setting with Ms. Chita Rivera. 


Chita Rivera was born in Washington, D.C. on January, 23rd, 1933.  Her mother was a government clerk. Her father was a Puerto Rican clarinetist. When she was 7 years old her mother was widowed.  She then got a job working at the Pentagon. The plan was for Chita to become a ballerina. Starting at age 11 she began training as a ballerina. She received a scholarship from George Balanchine to study ballet at the American School of Ballet. 


Accidentally, at age 17 she accompanied her friend to an audition for the chorus of CALL ME MADAM.  She wasn’t serious about attaining a part in the show.  Alas, she was cast as a principal dancer with Jerome Robbins being the choreographer. It’s said that the ballet world’s loss was Broadway’s gain. Thus a future legend’s theater career was conceived. After that she was cast as a principal dancer in GUYS AND DOLLS and performed in other Broadway musicals and films such as CAN-CAN starring Gwen Verdon and several others including SWEET CHARITY with Shirley Maclaine.


In 1947 Jerome Robbins had approached Leonard Bernstein and Arthur Laurents about collaborating on a musical adaptation of Shakespeare’s ROMEO AND JULIET.  It was to be about the strife between a Manhattan East Side Jewish family and the Jewish Emeralds with a daughter who had survived the Holocaust, emigrating from Israel and an Irish Catholic family with a focus on the Anti Semitic Jets during the Passover - Easter season.


While lunching in L.A. at the Beverly Hills Hotel they started talking about the street gang situation. The concept of EAST SIDE STORY became WEST SIDE STORY with a Puerto Rican family’s conflict with a Catholic family. Chita Rivera was the very first Anita starring in the original Broadway stage production which was a huge risk. “They could have lost everything.” Stephen Sondheim who was only in his early twenties wrote the lyrics casting the mold for a whole new world of musical theatre fame. Later Rita Moreno, another Puerto Rican starred as Anita in the multi Oscar- winning film version along with Natalie Wood. 


Recently Chita starred in the successful Broadway production of THE MYSTERY OF EDWIN DROOD and in touring productions of THE DANCER’S LIFE, a new musical about her career written by Terrence McNally for which she received one of her other  Tony nominations. There are pages of awards she has won.


This summer she will re-create her starring role in the new Kander/Ebb/Terrance McNally musical, THE VISIT at the Williamstown Theatre Festival running from July 31st thru August 17th.  Another Tony?  Why not?


Chita was awarded The Presidential Medal of Freedom by President Barack Obama in 2009.  In December of 2002 she received the coveted Kennedy Center Award. In May of 2013, she was appointed to a special Kennedy Center Honors Advisory Committee. Chita is active with all AIDS related benefits and organizations. She is the spokeswoman for UNICEF. She names her daughter, singer/dancer/choreographer, Lisa Mordente, as her most treasured production. 


Chita Rivera will make you feel as if you’ve been her close friend forever.  She modestly attributes her success to a higher power. She blushes when told that she’s a role model for children. The legend of Chita Rivera lives on. Hurry up and make plans to join in on the party!! . Trying to keep up with Chita Rivera is not easy!!

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