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Stars & the City: Broadway Legend Chita Rivera

Category Stars and the City

|by Jeryl Brunner |


Chita Rivera shares what keeps her jazzed about life

Broadway superstar Chita Rivera continues to dazzle with vigor and nerve. The two-time Tony winner, who ties with Julie Harris for a record ten individual Tony Award nominations, also has the distinction of being awarded the Presidential Medal of Freedom from President Obama. Dancing on Broadway since the 1950s, she originated the roles of Anita in West Side Story and Velma Kelly in Chicago. And Chita Rivera is not slowing down: This year, she performed at the glamorous Feinstein’s/54 Below, made an appearance at the 2018 Olivier Awards and embarked on a touring concert with Tommy Tune – and there’s a lot more to come! We sat down with Chita Rivera, who shared juicy stories about her recent theatrical adventures – and why she loves New York City and Broadway.

Broadway legend Chita Rivera (Photo: Laura Marie Duncan)

Broadway legend Chita Rivera (Photo: Laura Marie Duncan)

Do you recall one of your earliest memories performing? 
Chita Rivera:
At our house on Flagler Street in Washington, D.C., my brother Julio would show movies in the basement for the neighborhood and charge a nickel for the film. Before the movie began, me and my younger brother Armando were the live entertainment. Armando played the Frankenstein monster and I would do whatever it was that I studied that day in ballet class. 

How did you start dancing? 
Chita Rivera:
I loved to ride bicycles, climb trees and broke up the furniture in the house. So mother said, "That’s it. I’m shipping her off to a ballet school!’ 

What do you love about New York City? 
Chita Rivera:
New York is a wonderful place. It’s changing right now. And I don’t like how it’s changing. But I owe so much to New York. And I will always, always love New York, especially all the museums and Central Park. 

Tell us about performing at Feinstein’s/54 Below? 
Chita Rivera:
It really is an evening of reminiscence. Hopefully, for the audience and certainly for myself. I think how I worked with the most amazing people I could ever dream of and got to know them as friends. 

I believe that we are all born a painting. And our painting ends up being what you’ve done, who you have met, and your experiences in life.  And mine is going to be a really interesting paining.  Because if you have Leonard Bernstein, Jerome Robbins, Jule Styne, the Pope and Barack Obama. How can you not have a great painting?”

When you’re not working what do you love to do? 
Chita Rivera:
I cook. I don’t have a great specialty, but I’m very good with leftovers. Mother taught me well with the leftovers. I take what is in the refrigerator that tastes good by itself, put it all together and either it turns out to be a stew or something else. I’m a good cook.

How do you prepare for a show?
Chita Rivera:
I do the same thing all the time. I arrive two hours before. I give myself a barre in my dressing room. I also make some very strange noises vocalizing. They are very strange. I have an absolutely wonderful altar. It started out with the infant Jesus that a priest friend gave me. Then friends of mine asked if they could be on the altar. So they will give me a little something of themselves. I pray for a good show and not to forget anything. I also pray to let me be free and give love to the audience. 

Do you see yourself coming back to Broadway? (And please say, “yes!”) 
Chita Rivera:
Hell, yes!  I can’t say more right now, but I deeply cannot wait. I love being in a theater. I love knowing I’m going to the theater. The audience will be there. Life just moves around. There is nothing like it. 

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