ON THE RECORD: The Broadway Revival of The Mystery of Edwin Drood, Plus Early Chita Rivera

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17 Feb 2013


Original album art

Chita Rivera: Chita!/And Now I Sing!
The same Chita Rivera who is kicking up her heels in the current Drood — and who recently sparked Rob Fisher's excellent Kander & Ebb celebration as part of Lincoln Center's American Songbook series (and telecast on "Live From Lincoln Center") — has now appeared with a solo CD. A new CD, although the long-out-of-print album is 50 years old.

Two albums, actually. "Chita!" was released by the U.K. label Philips in 1962, during the London run of Bye Bye Birdie. (Rivera had by that point starred in West Side Story and Birdie on both Broadway and the West End.) Back in New York later that year, she recorded "And Now I Sing!" for the independent SEECO label. Both — 23 tracks in all — are combined on this new CD.

It took a bit of listening to get a handle on "Chita!," a collection of mostly show tunes. It wasn't until midway through that I realized that they were purposely showing us the many sides of Rivera. "Ten Cents a Dance" is an interesting take — in a way forecasting the yet-to-be-written Sweet Charity — while "The Lady's in Love with You" is kittenish. Then comes "Love, Look Away," from Flower Drum Song. Not what we'd expect to hear from that Wild Spanish/Puerto Rican rose, but one of the nicest recordings of the R & H ballad I've heard.

By the time she gets to "Get Me to the Church on Time," it has become clear; Chita is out to show us her wide range, and have fun doing so. ("Pull out the stoppa, let's have a whoppa.") Alyn Ainsworth — conductor of the West End Birdie — conducted and provided the sometimes overdone arrangements. They achieve what they presumably set out to do: give us a well-rounded survey of the talents of Rivera.

"And Now I Sing," conducted and arranged by Joe Cain, is friskier and more American; while recorded only months later, we get a more clearly recognizable Chita. No show tunes here; just movie songs, mostly from the '30s and '40s (although they include the then brand-new "Moon River").

True, some of the arrangements — on both of the included albums — are too much stuck in their own era. But then you get something like a tango hall arrangement of Rodgers & Hart's "Easy to Remember" — a Bing Crosby song, originally — and you have to smile broadly at song, arrangement and singer. Chita's many fans should be pleased.

(Steven Suskin is author of "Show Tunes," "The Sound of Broadway Music: A Book of Orchestrators and Orchestrations," "Second Act Trouble," the "Broadway Yearbook" series and the "Opening Night on Broadway" books. He also pens Playbill.com's Book Shelf and DVD Shelf columns. He can be reached at Ssuskin@aol.com.)

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