DIVA TALK: Catching Up With Two-Time Tony Winner Chita Rivera Plus Betty Buckley's Signature Songs

By Andrew Gans
04 Oct 2013

Gwen Verdon and Rivera in Chicago.

Question: Since the upcoming night is a celebration of your career, could you talk about two of your musical co-stars from years past, the late Gwen Verdon and Dick Van Dyke
Rivera: Two excellent ones. Well, Dick is really perfect, not that Gwen isn’t, because she damn sure is… Dick is … so unique. Everybody that I’ve worked with is one of a kind. And, he’s still going, and his comedy was so brilliant, and he was a fabulous, handsome leading man! He swears he can’t dance, but he was just as smooth as Fred Astaire, and he sings like a million bucks. And, now he’s got all this white hair, he’s even better looking than he was. I mean, we had more fun doing Bye Bye Birdie. And, Gwen – well, she was one of my dreams. I did Can Can with her, and when I finally was standing behind her in Chicago and danced with her and shared the stage with her – I’m also not a dreamer, but if I dreamt, that would’ve been a dream of mine, and I got it. You’ll never see another Gwen Verdon. Did you ever see her?

Question: I did once at a benefit concert of Sweet Charity.
Rivera: That was fun. But, unfortunately, she didn’t do her thing. We were up there doing her part, but none of us did it as well as she did. [Laughs.] Believe me, she was the real deal. Everything she touched…it was an honor to share that space with that redhead.

Question: Do you have a performance that you’re proudest of?
Rivera: I don’t know about the "proudest." I think when you do it right and you do what the creators really intended to have done, I think that’s when I’m proud. When I’ve pleased them, when I’ve done their work, because they’re the creators, then I please myself. Because without them, there is no play. I must say whenever we pleased Jerome Robbins, that was brilliant. [Laughs.]

Question: There is a coffee-table book and a documentary coming out…
Rivera: I can’t say a lot about it because they’re putting it all together. This was not my intention either. I’m really somebody that does what she does… If it weren’t for other people documenting things, I probably wouldn’t do it all, so I’m pretty lucky to be taken care of that way. But the coffee-table book – I sent all my letters and my pictures and memorabilia, and I’m hoping it’ll be something somebody is interested in. I’m mainly interested in the young kids knowing if they want to do it, they can.

Question: What was the experience like going through your memorabilia?
Rivera Oh my God. To be reminded of such fabulous moments and great times and great people I’ve met in my life. I’m a very lucky woman. And, I’m still getting them. … I just want to be a good example for the young ones coming up, that’s all.

Question: There’s a rumor you might play 54 Below at the end of the year…
Rivera: That was kind of finalized [recently]. So we’re going to do that!

Question: How does working in a nightclub compare to doing a Broadway show?
Rivera: It’s just different. You hear your own voice, you’re telling your own story, as opposed to the story of the playwright. It's a much more personal situation. In another way you feel closer to the audience, you’re exposing yourself. The first time I did it I thought I was going to die. [Laughs.] And the first time I was asked to do it, I said no because I need a character to play. But the interesting thing is you get to know yourself even better by doing something like that. You hear your own voice and you become introduced to yourself a bit more. So every level of the entertainment field is one where you can get to know yourself in different ways. I can thank Ron Field and Fred Ebb and John Kander for that exposure. It was when Fosse had his heart attack, and we had to quit Chicago for a while. And it was then that they said let’s do a nightclub act. And I said, “Ooh, no!,” but I’m really glad I did.

[For tickets to the Oct. 7 celebration, visit broadwaycares.org/chita. A limited number of $40 rush tickets will be released for sale at 6:30 PM; they will be sold in the lobby of the August Wilson Theatre (245 West 52nd Street). They will not be available at the box office. Tickets will be sold on a first-come, first-served basis and are limited to two tickets per person. Cash or credit cards will be accepted.]