DIVA TALK: Catching Up With Tony Winner and The Mystery of Edwin Drood Star Chita Rivera

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16 Nov 2012

Chita Rivera
Chita Rivera
Photo by Laura Marie Duncan

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Chita Rivera
The indomitable Chita Rivera, the two-time Tony-winning actress who was awarded the Presidential Medal of Freedom by President Barack Obama, is thankfully back on Broadway. The Kennedy Center Honoree, whose theatrical career has spanned more than five decades, is part of the knockout cast of The Roundabout Theatre Company's critically acclaimed revival of Rupert Holmes' The Mystery of Edwin Drood at Studio 54. Singer-actress-dancer Rivera plays the mysterious Princess Puffer, owner of an opium den, in a company that also boasts Stephanie J. Block, Will Chase, Gregg Edelman, Jim Norton, Andy Karl, Jessie Mueller and Betsy Wolfe, among others. Last week I had the great pleasure of chatting with Rivera, who like millions of others on the East Coast, lost power following the devastating Hurricane Sandy. The exceptionally gifted artist spoke about her latest Broadway outing, her advice for aspiring performers and her thoughts about the recent presidential election; that brief chat follows.

Question: Is your power back on?
Chita Rivera: Oh, thank God! Finally. I had a scare last night. My daughter's at the house with the dogs, and for a flash of a second, they flickered, but they stayed on. I haven't spoken to her this morning. When I'm finished talking to you, I'll have to call, but she would've called me had they gone out again. But thank God, they're fine. One of the company members — his went out again. It's just so sad. I've got the news on now, and it's just astronomically horrific.

Question: At least we had good news with the election.
Rivera: Oh! My God! I was really nervous — I mean, I went to mass. Not that I wouldn't go to mass anyhow, but after I voted, at the church, I said, "God, please don't let this other thing happen." So we're okay with that.

Rivera in The Mystery of Edwin Drood.
photo by Joan Marcus

Question: Getting to Edwin Drood, how did this role come about?
Rivera: I was asked to lunch by the creators, and Scott Ellis and I worked together — we've known each other for years — in The Rink. And, Rupert, I had never met before, but certainly knew him through Fred and John — Fred Ebb and John Kander. And, Paul Gemignani I worked with in Zorba. We had lunch, and I was actually really romanced into it because I'd never really seen it. All I knew about it was that it was a wonderful musical, and it won lots of Tonys, and one of my best friends, Graciela Daniele, had directed it. So that was enough for me. And, so I said yes. Actually, when I left, I went, "My goodness, Chita, that was very fast. You don't even know what this is about!"

Question: Doing eight shows a week is demanding. I wonder what goes into your decision whether you want to commit to that schedule.
Rivera: Oh, God — eight shows? [Laughs.] I can do eight shows faster than somebody who is 25 years old. That wasn't even an issue. Oh my God, no — and besides, it's much less than I've ever done. I also wanted to keep active. I wanted to stay home between now — or then, when my decision was made — and my next thing that I'm going to do. I just didn't want to sit, you know. I just didn't want to sit, so I thought this was a good idea. So that's how that happened.

Question: How would you describe Princess Puffer?
Rivera: Well, she runs an opium den, and she was more or less forced into it because she fell in love with a man years ago, and he kind of turned her into that. She appears to be a bit tough, but she's really a loveable, reliable, kind of fun person, who more or less understands those people who are pushed into the seedier side of life. She kind of offers the wrong kind of comfort, but that's what she offers.

Question: Do you have a favorite moment in the show for her? Is there something you look forward to every night?
Rivera: There's a wonderful song in the second act that she sings — her relationship with Rosa Bud, whom she was the nanny of. And, at that point of the show, we never knew that she was her nanny at a certain time. And, it's her song — it's kind of raucous and robust and fun.


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