Broadway Speaks! Liza Minnelli, Joel Grey and More Stars Praise Theatre Legend Chita Rivera

News   Broadway Speaks! Liza Minnelli, Joel Grey and More Stars Praise Theatre Legend Chita Rivera
 
Chita Rivera, an acclaimed musical theatre actress, made her Broadway debut in 1953 and has continued to grace the stage continuously since then.

"Checking my self out!!"
"Checking my self out!!" Photo by Monica Simoes

Rivera, who received an additional eight Tony Award nominations, counts Kiss of the Spider Woman, Chicago and The Rink among her many stage credits. Chita Rivera: The Dancer's Life, an autobiographical show about Rivera's personal story, played Broadway in 2006. 

Rivera returned to Broadway in 2015 to star in The Visit, a new musical by long-time collaborators John Kander and Fred Ebb, with a book by Terrence McNally. The musical, in performances at the Lyceum Theater, received five Tony nominations, including Best Musical and a Best Actress nod for Rivera.

Playbill.com spoke with actors about their favorite memories of Rivera.

* Joel Grey: Chita is the real thing. She's always been the real thing. I saw her with four guys at the Grand Finale — a restaurant on 70th Street. She was a killer. She's still a killer! It's that focus. That ferocity of belief in what she's doing.

Liza Minnelli: Chita Rivera is the most talented, the funniest and the most professional friend I've ever had and I love her.

Liza Minnelli and Chita Rivera in <i>The Rink</i>
Liza Minnelli and Chita Rivera in The Rink

Orfeh: I saw her about seven times in Edwin Drood with my husband, and I got to see them end up as the couple in the end. That was one of my favorite Chita memories. Losing your husband to Chita Rivera — it could be worse!

Andy Karl: We were voted as lovers many times by the audience [in The Mystery of Edwin Drood]. Many times I had Chita Rivera's legs wrapped around me at some various point. She does splits up to her ears just to show off in rehearsal. "OK, we get it, Chita. Chill out!" The great thing about Chita is she's so willing to play onstage in front of hundreds of people. We ad libbed many times during that number, as you do in Drood. I have never felt more comfortable onstage ad libbing with somebody who's such in control of her instrument. Once you're next to her, you feel completely comfortable.

Sydney Lucas: I remember when I first met Chita, she had her Tony Nominee pin on. And she asked me where mine was. I told her I forgot it. I didn't have it. And she gave me hers. In the end we took a picture for the photo shoot thing and it ended up beautifully on the picture because I was in front with the Tony pin and she was in back. I got to wear Chita Rivera's Tony Nominee pin! What?! She's unbelievably nice. She made me feel comfortable.

Sarah Stiles: There's this one video on YouTube but I can't remember exactly what the event was. She does "America" with two boys and then she also does "All That Jazz." They have microphones that they're holding and they're dancing and using them. The choreography is so insane, her voice is so sick, her dancing is so crazy, and she's juggling these crazy microphones and jumping up on top of these boys' backs. She's unbelievable. She's so good at what she does. And the life and spirit that comes out of her is what musical theatre is supposed to be. And we need more of that!

Laura Osnes: I saw her in the Rainbow Room a couple of months ago and she has still got it. She dances, sings, acts with verve, charisma, she's classy but sexy and just has this pizazz that doesn't exist anymore. She's a living legend.

Steven Boyer: The first time I saw Chita the flesh, I was doing I'm Not Rappaport with Ben Vereen and we were at the Paper Mill. They're old friends, and she came to see him. I remember coming out of my dressing room and turning the corner, and she was in the hallway with Ben Vereen. I was kind of struck dumb because suddenly these two legends were standing in front of me. He was like, "This is Steve. He played the mugger." She said, "So nice to meet you." I don't remember what I said. I'm not sure it really made sense. It was one of those people — there's no way on earth I would ever meet actually her.

Bebe Neuwirth I did get to perform with her at the Kennedy Center Honors, and I remember being onstage and doing this step that moved stage left to right. I'm doing this step and I look up and there's Chita Rivera coming at me, doing the exact same step. I thought, "There's nothing better than this." She is pure joy, and I think that's what we all feel around her is her joy just comes out of her and we receive it. She's a very unique human being.

Bebe Neuwirth, Chita Rivera and Ann Reinking
Bebe Neuwirth, Chita Rivera and Ann Reinking Photo by Aubrey Reuben

Ruthie Ann Miles: When I think about Chita, I think immediately of the cast albums I have of her, singing in everything. Every iconic musical theatre piece, strong woman role. I hear her voice in my head. I think about a night honoring John Kander and Fred Ebb several nights back. She sang the final song of the night. She sang a song from The Visit. I was watching from backstage and just watching her – she had a connection to that music that I've never seen someone have. It was such a small moment and it was like she was singing to her best friend. It really, really beautiful. Very sweet. It wasn't a very flashy song. It wasn't anything crazy. But I remember thinking, "That's really special." I think the luckiest part of my life in this season I'm in is I get to meet these people and get to know them. And if I ever get to sing a song to my best friends and blow a kiss to the heavens for Mr. Ebb, I think I would be the luckiest girl in the world.

Michelle Veintimilla: When we were at Wiliamstown, whenever we did our paux de deux I would always get really emotional by the end of it, and I'd be crying. She'd always said I'd grow up and grow out of it. There's a moment where we're about to embrace and sometimes in the show she'd wipe my tear away onstage. Chita wiping a tear away onstage in the middle of a dance. I will never forget that.

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