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

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04 Oct 2013

Chita Rivera
Chita Rivera
Photo by Laura Marie Duncan

News, views and reviews about the multi-talented women of the musical theatre and the concert/cabaret stage.

Chita Rivera
On Oct. 7 Broadway Cares/Equity Fights AIDS will present an evening at the August Wilson Theatre honoring the legendary Chita Rivera, whose Broadway career spans, remarkably, nearly six decades. The 8 PM performance, which celebrates Rivera's recent 80th birthday, is aptly titled Chita: A Legendary Celebration. Directed by Graciela Daniele and written by Terrence McNally, with musical direction by Michael Croiter, the two-time Tony winner will be joined onstage by fellow Tony winners Tommy Tune and Ben Vereen. Also taking part in the evening are several dancers from Kiss of the Spider Woman and The Dancer's Life, including Richard Amaro, Brad Bradley, Lloyd Culbreath, Raymond Del Barrio, Robert Montano and Alex Sanchez, as well as Kyle Taylor Parker and Nathan Peck from Broadway's Tony Award-winning Kinky Boots. I recently had the pleasure of chatting with the Broadway gypsy, who has worked with such musical theatre giants as Leonard Bernstein, Lynn Ahrens, Gower Champion, Cy Coleman, Jerry Bock, Fred Ebb, Dorothy Fields, Stephen Flaherty, Bob Fosse, Sheldon Harnick, Jerry Herman, John Kander, Rob Marshall, Terrence McNally, Hal Prince, Jerome Robbins, Stephen Sondheim, Charles Strouse and more. The gifted artist, who is the quintessential triple-threat, spoke about her upcoming benefit performance; that interview follows.

Question How did the idea for the Legendary Celebration come about?
Chita Rivera: Well, it certainly wasn’t me because I certainly didn’t want to bring any attention to it [laughs], but Broadway Cares spoke to me, and I was, of course, absolutely thrilled because I was there for the very first [Broadway Cares benefit] with Barry Brown and Fritz Holtz. Unhappily, I say, we’re still having to do [benefits], but that’s one of the organizations I want to back. So I just said, "Okay, I’ll just swallow the age, and put it out there." It’s out there anyhow, and I’ll have some friends, and hopefully there will be some nice memories, and it’ll be a good evening.

Question: Two of your guest stars are Tommy Tune and Ben Vereen. I was wondering if you could speak about your history with them.
Rivera: Tommy’s been my friend forever — I've been around so long that most of my friends are forever, but Tommy is somebody that I absolutely — I don’t use the word idolize very much, but he’s pretty close to it. He’s one of the most gifted people I know and has given so much to the theatre, but the most important thing about Tommy is that he’s one of the kindest, sweetest souls you’d ever meet. We’ve been friends for a long, long time, and I just hope he comes back to Broadway because I just think the theatre misses Tommy. I’m sure it’s up to him, but just to see him on a Broadway stage again… It’d just be great to see him… The same thing with Ben. I’ve known Ben since Sweet Charity; we’ve been friends ever since then. We’ve even played together in clubs and stuff. He had that horrible accident, then he came back. He just proves he’s an authentic. He and Tommy are the real deal. I think we need to see some real deals, long lasting and one-of-a-kind.

Question: I’m sure you don’t want to give away too many surprises about the evening, but what can people expect?
Rivera: Well, you know, it’s no surprises. [Laughs.] [The evening will feature] Tommy and Ben and six of my guys that I dance with in most of my shows, that I absolutely adore, and I’ve got two little gems from Kinky Boots! That should be a lot of fun. It certainly will be for me, so I figure if I’m having fun, hopefully the audience will be, too.

Rivera in Drood.
photo by Joan Marcus

Question: You were most recently on Broadway in the revival of Drood, which I loved. What was that experience like for you?
Rivera: First of all, Rupert Holmes is just an angel, and it was great to work with [director] Scott [Ellis] again, because Scott and I [first] worked [together] when he was one of the characters in The Rink. It was an extraordinarily gifted company; the company just blew me away. And I just think it’s a darn shame that that show isn’t still running because every single one of those kids was brilliant.

Question: You were picked as the lover at the end of the show more than anyone else.
Rivera: [Laughs.] And, the thing I loved the most was when they gave me the kid. I kept saying, over on the other side, "C’mon give me the kid," because he’s delicious and wonderful, and it just gave us a lot of fun. But I’ll tell you, all those guys were terrific. But I was picked as the lover [the most]. I loved it. I didn’t like being the killer!

Question: Would you be interesting in doing another show? How do you feel about the eight-show-a-week schedule these days?
Rivera: Oh gosh, yeah. But not any show. The show [I'd like to do we've] done twice. We’ve done it in Virginia and in Chicago, and I think we’re going to be doing it next season in Williamstown, The Visit. To me, it's very exciting, very unique, dark, passionate. It’s one of the last scores Freddie and John wrote together. John is still writing like crazy, thank God. We really believe in it, and this will be the fourth time because we also did a benefit for Broadway Cares — we did one show, but that was without costumes, and mostly the new people were on book. But we’re really looking forward to it and going to give it another stab, with Terrence [McNally], of course, and John. Fred, of course, is not here anymore. So we’re hoping to do that next season.

Question: Maybe they will bring it in afterwards.
Rivera: That's the plan. We'll see. I think we need some good American original musicals, I really do.

Question: Other than your Tony Awards, what awards or honors have meant the most to you?
Rivera: Oh my gosh, the Kennedy Center Honors, of course – I’ll never forget that evening and then the Medal of Freedom. The President giving me the Medal of Freedom – those are the sort of things you wish your entire family could be there for, especially your mom and dad. My father passed away when I was very young, and my mother has been gone since The Rink. So those are the two most amazing awards I’ve gotten. It’s very kind and very nice to give me these awards. However long I stay, I want to keep communicating with these fabulous audiences, and I want to still do it and enjoy it.


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