|Monica Simoes/Broadway Cares|
Chita: A Legendary Celebration
For those who worried Chita Rivera's lights might have dimmed now that she is an octogenarian, fear not. The Tony-winning triple threat proved in a stunning 90-minute concert Oct. 7 that her talents are as numerous and powerful as ever. In fact, Rivera was in prime form, singing, acting, dancing, joking and simply strutting around the stage like no one since… Chita Rivera!
The energy in the August Wilson Theatre was palpable with the sold-out crowd's excitement growing as the superb 15-member orchestra, led by conductor Michael Croiter on drums and Michael Patrick Walker on piano, raced through a terrific medley of songs associated with Rivera's career. And, then the legendary singer-actress-dancer made her entrance in true star fashion: Rivera, dressed in bright red by Susan Hilferty, rose from below the stage through a trap door to rapturous applause.
Rivera kicked off her evening with a spirit-raising version of "A Lot of Livin' to Do" from Charles Strouse and Lee Adams' Bye, Bye Birdie. (Kudos to sound designer Andrew Keister, who provided a perfect balance between Rivera's vocals and the onstage band.)
"I had no idea celebrating my 100th birthday would be so much fun," Rivera joked, explaining it was no longer possible to keep her 80 years a secret. "I'm from the Golden Age," she added, wondering what could possibly follow being "Golden." "Platinum," a friend countered.
|photo by Monica Simoes|
Directed by Graciela Daniele and written by Terrence McNally, the evening featured highlights from Rivera's award-winning career with just enough patter to illuminate the songs that followed. Rivera recalled being summoned to Leonard Bernstein's apartment, where he sat her down and proceeded to teach her all of Anita's music from West Side Story. The Kennedy Center Honoree then tantalized the crowd with a fiery verse from "A Boy Like That" that segued into a terrific "America."
"How do you step into the shoes of Gwen Verdon?": Rivera admitted that was her initial reaction to a phone call from Bob Fosse and Verdon asking her to star in the first national tour of Sweet Charity. One of her "little people," Rivera joked, told her, "Bring your own shoes!" A deeply felt version of Cy Coleman and Dorothy Fields' "Where Am I Going" from that 1966 musical followed.
Rivera then introduced her first special guest, nine-time Tony winner Tommy Tune, who, dressed in a red tuxedo with custom-made red suede shoes, serenaded the evening's hostess-with-the-mostest with Bye, Bye Birdie's "Rosie." Tune, also in good voice, first appeared atop the Jersey Boys stage and then glided down the spiral staircase to join his long-time friend in the touching duet. Their genuine affection for each other as friends and colleagues was apparent.
Kyle Taylor Parker and Nathan Peck, dressed in drag and sporting sky-high Kinky Boots, joined Rivera for a humorous trio of "Camille, Collette, Fifi." Rivera followed with a medley of "Sweet Happy Life" and "Mas que Nada" before launching into the evening's vocal high point, a thrilling, haunting rendition of Jacques Brel's "Carousel." The way Rivera breathed into each and every lyric brought beauty to her vocals, and the use of her voice, hands and arms — combined with the wonderful musical arrangement by Mark Hummel and orchestration by Lynne Shankel as well as Jeff Croiter's lighting — created a perfect, theatrical and highly moving moment.
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