How Chita Rivera Accidentally Led to 'Class' Being Cut From Chicago for 1 Performance

Seth Rudetsky   How Chita Rivera Accidentally Led to 'Class' Being Cut From Chicago for 1 Performance
 
This week in the life of Seth Rudetsky, Seth shares Chita stories from West Side Story and Chicago, plus the night Ramin Karimloo prevented the chandelier from falling in Phantom of the Opera.
Chicago_Broadway_Production_Photo_1975_Mary McCarty as Matron Mama Morton & Chita Rivera _HR.jpg
Mary McCarty and Chita Rivera Martha Swope/©NYPL for the Performing Arts

Hello from London! I’m sitting on a Norwegian Air flight after a fantastic cruise through the Norwegian Fjords. Here’s a recap of all the fun Broadway stories I heard this week!

James and I were hanging out with Chita Rivera at the late night buffet (natch) and he showed her his West Side Story from when he played Tony when he was 23.

Chita was fascinated because she had never seen the official printed script. What we found fascinating was her insight into the creation of the show. And she happened to notice one moment in the script that wasn’t accurate with what she did. Before “A Boy Like That,” the script says that Anita approaches Maria’s bedroom door and it’s locked (because Tony is there with Maria). Anita tells Maria to unlock the door. Anita then hears voices from the bedroom but she is unsure what they’re saying. The script then says that Anita stiffens and moves away from the door. After Tony leaves through the window, Maria opens the door and sees Anita’s angry look. The script implies that when Anita hears the voices, she figures out it’s Tony and that’s why she stiffens and gets angry.

Chita told us that actually she would simply be insistent that Maria open the door and, once it was opened, she would see the coat that Tony forgot. Then she would get angry. That specific moment was added later on in rehearsal and that’s why it’s probably not noted in the script. And speaking of that locked door, she had me laughing so hard recounting one particular performance: Chita told Carol Lawrence to unlock the door like she always did. Larry Kert left through the window as usual, but when Carol Lawrence went to turn the knob and open the door…it wouldn’t open! Mind you, the door was just free standing in the middle of the stage and the two women were standing on either side of it. After a while of Carol jiggling the knob, Chita realized that, in order to get into the room to finish the scene and the song, she had no choice but to move downstage one foot and walk around the door. Chita told herself, “I am going to walk around this door and I am going to make sure the audience does not laugh.” And it worked! I said, “Wait…you made the biggest deal that door had to be opened by Maria and then you simply entered the room by walking around it?” She said, “Well, I walked really slowly.”

Now, before you laud her for not laughing onstage, she also told us about doing Chicago and the night she and Mary McCarty (Mama Morton) cut the song “Class.” And it wasn’t their choice. Before the song begins, they’re supposed to be sitting in Mama Morton’s office, listening to Roxie Hart on the radio. When Chita abruptly shuts it off, Mary tells her not to break her radio. That night, however, Mary told Chita not to break her “airplane.” Who knows why? Well, instead of Mary correcting herself or both of them simply moving on, she and Mary started laughing. And laughing. And they couldn’t stop. Finally, they heard stage management yell, “Take ’em off!” and suddenly the set moved offstage. With both of them on it. And that night, the song never happened!

Speaking of something never happening, Ramin Karimloo was telling me about his very first night on as the Phantom. At the end of Act I, the Phantom gets angry at Christine, yells “Go!” and (as we all know) the chandelier crashes to the stage (accompanied by a scary violin scale) and Christine, who is the target, runs off in terror. Well, Ramin was in “the angel” (a set piece that rises) right before that moment and his foot got caught in it as it was rising! He was able to pull his foot out, but it messed up the mechanical sensors onstage and therefore the chandler safety lock stayed engaged. So when he yelled, “Go!” the chandelier didn’t crash to the stage. Or move at all. It simply stayed above the audience. Regardless, the scary violin music played, Christine ran off in fright (from what?), and the audience was left perplexed. I’m sure no one noticed. After all, when people think of Phantom, they don’t think of the chandelier crashing to the stage, right? Right? #Refund. (Don’t forget: Ramin and I are doing three shows together in London on October 5 and 6!

Jenna Russell told us about how she became disillusioned with musical theater in the ’90s but then she did a show featuring the music of Jason Robert Brown, Adam Guettel, and Michael John LaChiusa and fell in love with all three composers and the theatre again. She told a theater company she was dying to do Jason Robert Brown’s Songs For a New World and they agreed to do it. Even though it’s an ensemble piece, she was being treated as the star as per the poster. They did a photo shoot with her on top of a building, facing forward, wind in her hair, looking towards a future with some trepidation but enormous excitement. Finally, rehearsals were about to begin. She was on the bus to the first day of said rehearsals when her mobile phone rang. It was her agent telling her she got a TV show. Yay! But, wait….did it conflict with Songs For a New World? Yes. How much of the run did it conflict with? All of it. WHAT?! She told her agent she was on her way to rehearsal at that very moment, and he told her that she had to tell them she couldn’t do the show. Seriously! So, she had to walk into the rehearsal room, see everybody’s smiling faces and, before they did the happy greetings and group hug, say, “Um….I can’t do the show.” She was mortified! The end of the story is, she eventually wound up doing Songs for a New World ten years later (with Cynthia Erivo!) and the TV show lasted for three years so it was worth devastating everyone/it.

And finally, in New York news, back in the ’60s the amazing duo of Steve Lawrence and Eydie Gorme starred on Broadway in Golden Rainbow. Well, on Tuesday night, their son David Lawrence (who’s a big time Hollywood musician) and Tony Award winner Debbie (Shapiro) Gravitte will be performing a concert version of the show at 54 Below! Tix here: https://54below.com/events/54-sings-golden-rainbow/

Listen how great the score is (and how great they were)

Then watch how bizarre the title song was when they performed on the Tony Awards. Things to note: The ladies are in sexy outfits, but they’re not actually showing skin. They’re covered in skin-type fabric. Too risqué? And please take a gander at the ubiquitous male featured dancer doing sassy head bobs in a red sequined halter top. ASAP! Then peace out


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