ONSTAGE & BACKSTAGE: Chita Rivera Gets Chatty

By Seth Rudetsky
10 Sep 2013

Rivera with Brent Carver in Kiss of the Spider Woman.

I asked her how exacting Fosse was, and Chita remembered the beginning of the "Big Spender" number. Fosse told the dance hall girls that they were all looking at one guy and that they couldn't blink. She said it was so hard not to blink, but she made sure she didn't. One girl did and the next day, she was no longer in the film. Yowtch! Watch the number (without blinking). 

Chita also remembers hearing "All That Jazz" for the first time when the show was out of town. When John Kander played her the opening vamp, she screamed and told him the song was brilliant. He then explained that there was more than just the vamp. I myself was obsessed with her amazing high D (with vibrato!) at the end of the reprise. Here's my deconstruction

Chita entered for that number in an elevator and thought it was such an amazing entrance that she didn't deserve it! Even though she had starred on Broadway a few times at that point, she still didn't have the confidence to fully own how amazing that moment was. She said she that before she got in the elevator she'd have to walk around downstairs and tell herself, "I'm Gina Lollabrigida" or "I'm Sophia Loren" so she'd be able to enter with full sass. Then she added, "Now, however, I could kill that entrance!"

Speaking of starring in a show with an icon, Chita remembers getting a call from Kander and Ebb asking her to do The Rink. Of course, she agreed. Then they told her it would be opposite Liza Minnelli. Chita was thrilled, because she and Liza always wanted to do a show together playing best friends. Well, actually, they explained, the characters aren't friends. Chita was still excited. Then Chita was told the relationship was actually mother and daughter. Silence. Chita finally asked, "Who plays the mother?" Here's a great clip of Chita and Liza together in the original production!

We discussed Kiss of The Spider Woman and Chita remembers the first production which was done at Purchase (a nearby college) as an out-of-town try out. Critics weren't supposed to come, but Frank Rich did and gave it a terrible review. Someone else was playing the Spider Woman at the time and the review said, "What is needed in this role is not, perhaps, a mysterious reincarnation of Rita Hayworth (which is what Sonia Braga brought to the film version) but a dazzling musical-comedy presence of the Chita Rivera sort who has always ignited the flashiest Kander-Ebb songs."

Even with that review, Chita didn't think of herself for the role. Instead, she told "John and Freddy" that she found the perfect person to play the part, and she took them to an Off-Broadway theatre to watch this woman perform. The show was Song of Singapore and the "perfect" Spider Woman was… Donna Murphy! Chita told us "Thank God she couldn't dance!" because she got the role instead and won the Tony Award!

There was so much more, but I'll save it for another column. Suffice it say, she's a great lady in many ways. And on that note, peace out!

(Seth Rudetsky is the afternoon Broadway host on SiriusXM. He has played piano for over 15 Broadway shows, was Grammy-nominated for his concert CD of Hair and Emmy-nominated for being a comedy writer on "The Rosie O'Donnell Show." He has written two novels, "Broadway Nights" and "My Awesome/Awful Popularity Plan," which are also available at Audible.com. He recently launched SethTV.com, where you can contact him and view all of his videos and his sassy new reality show.)