What Did Chita Rivera Do When Bob Fosse Had His Heart Attack During Chicago?

Seth Rudetsky   What Did Chita Rivera Do When Bob Fosse Had His Heart Attack During Chicago?
This week in the life of Seth Rudetsky, Seth watches Fosse/Verdon with Lin-Manuel Miranda and Andréa Burns, shares stories from their In The Heights days, and more.
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Chita Rivera Martha Swope/©NYPL for the Performing Arts

Greetings from New York where I’ll be for a few days before I travel three points of the USA: I’m in the Northeast on Thursday with Andréa Burns (Boston), the South on Saturday with Ramin Karimloo and Sierra Boggess (Fort Lauderdale), and the Pacific northwest with Sarah Silverman on Sunday (San Francisco)! All info here.

So, this Thursday I’m in Boston doing Bernstein Reimagined with Andréa Burns. We’re both hosting and performing in the show, and it’s super appropriate for Andréa since her first big audition was for the Maria understudy in the European tour of West Side Story. She was a sophomore at NYU and wanted to see what a real New York audition was like so she went to the dance call. Andréa had gone to an arts high school in Miami, and one of their projects was learning the original choreography to “America.” Well, she showed up at the European tour audition and she and the other women had to learn…the original choreography to “America.” Yes, prior knowledge!

Instead of showing everyone how she already knew it, she pulled the ol’ “Wait…how does this go?” routine to show how quickly she could “learn” something. After she danced as a Shark girl, they asked her to stay and sing. She went to the bathroom, washed off her makeup to look young and innocent, came back and sang the high C at the end of the “Tonight” quintet. The next morning while she was waiting to hear if she got it, she turned on her TV and kept seeing the balcony scene from West Side Story on various news shows. She couldn’t understand why her life was being mirrored on TV. Turns out, it happened to be the day Leonard Bernstein had died…and she later found out she was cast in West Side Story. We’re both very excited to do the show on Thursday, not only because we love his music, but because we just found out that his daughters will be attending as well! Come join us!

There were so many amazing moments for Andréa when she did West Side Story (once she convinced her parents to let her drop out of college to tour Europe), but one of them relates to what we both did last week: Andréa and the cast had to perform on Thanksgiving (which isn’t a European holiday ) so she didn’t get to be with her family back in the States. However, a mom of one of the dancers flew out and made Thanksgiving dinner for the cast. The dancer was Nicole Fosse and the mom was Gwen Verdon!

She gave ‘em the ol’ Razzle Dazzle and a side of sweet potato casserole! Speaking of Gwen Verdon, Andréa and I spent Tuesday night at the apartment of Lin-Manuel Miranda, who is one of the executive producers of Fosse/Verdon on FX.


I first met Lin because Andréa invited me to the workshop of In The Heights, where she originated the role of Daniela, the sassy hairdresser. I loved her and the show so much! I remember walking up to the producers during intermission and telling them that they had another Rent on their hands. All I wanted to do was invest, but apparently a $20 bill and an expired Metrocard was not enough.

I was also blown away by the performance of the leading man, who I had never seen before. During intermission I found out he had written the score, as well, and I could not believe the talent level! Anyhoo, Lin invited us over on Tuesday along with Julie Klausner and Saeed Jones. I had never met Saeed before (who’s a big deal on Buzzfeed News), but I’ve known Julie for a long time. She asked me for years to appear on her show and deconstruct “Turkey Lurkey Time.” It’s one of my favorite online videos. Watch here.

Years ago, Julie and her comedy partner, Jackie Clarke, made an amazing parody of the bizarre video “Welcome to my Home.” The parody is called “Welcome to Our House.” So funny!

Anyhoo, we had such a great time. During commercial breaks, we would all live tweet and at one point, Andréa and I tried to recreate Michelle Williams’ (as Gwen) uncomfortable nod.

Then, since the episode was about Gwen trying to get Fosse to direct and choreograph Chicago, I told everyone what Chita Rivera told me:

One day, during the first week, she and Gwen were eating lunch in the studio. Chita remembers that Gwen was practicing how to crochet for her scene in the courtroom. Someone came in and took Gwen aside and she immediately left the studio. That’s when everyone found out that Fosse had a heart attack. The show was canceled at that point (and, thankfully, done the following year). Chita had moved back from L.A. to NYC with her daughter to co-star as Velma Kelly. The good news was Fosse would survive, but Chita had no job! She told me that her friend Rocco came over and said they had no choice; they needed to go shopping. And that’s what they did. When I told everyone the story, Julie asked where they shopped and I guessed Bergdorf’s but told everyone, namedrop-style, “I’ll text Chita!” Of course, I was terrified I got the story wrong, but Chita wrote back and verified. Look!


At the end of the episode, we went to Lin’s office for a Fosse singalong. It was at midnight and supposedly “causal”… but I was not having people not knowing the exact melody/lyrics/acting intention.

Speaking of Lin, he gave me an amazing quote for Seth’s Broadway Diary Vol 2 which is the second volume of Playbill column collection. (Find it here.) He said:

"If Seth Rudetsky didn't exist, we'd have to invent him. He is the friend who points out everything glorious and silly about your favorite shows. He leaves you laughing helplessly and in awe of his gifts and time management skills. Read this book and see how much Seth gets done in a day. It will make you reach for more."

Here’s two fun Lin-Manuel stories from that collection:
My great friend Jack Plotnick is visiting me and was recently on a House episode (playing the anorexic) with Lin-Manuel. The shoot sounds like it was a headache! It took place in a mental institution, and all the actors had to be in the background of every scene. They weren't allowed to sit and read a book, but they were allowed to sit and do a puzzle. But the director didn't think the patients should be good at the puzzle (I guess because they had mental problems?), so every time they got a section of the puzzle put together, a P.A. would come over and completely mess it up all up, and they'd have to start it all over again. It's a horrible combination of Groundhog Day and Sartre's No Exit.

I also interviewed the wonderful Robin de Jesús who plays Sonny in In the Heights. He told me that he's hardly missed any performances of the show, but Priscilla Lopez hasn't missed any. She's never been sick, and she's never taken a personal day. She is old school, people. Robin, however, may not have missed many shows, but he missed a crucial prop. In the middle of Act 1, he's supposed to quickly hand Usnavi a coffee to give to Vanessa. She tastes it and comments that it's sweet with a little bit of cinnamon like her grandma used to make. That leads to Usnavi getting a date with her. Cut to: Robin didn't look down when he picked up his prop, and instead of handing Usnavi a cup of coffee, he handed him a Coke! Lin-Manuel had no time to change it, so he just handed Vanessa the Coke, and she was forced to ad lib a response which was "Oh… my Grandma used to like these." That’ll get you a date.

And, don’t forget, if you’re in New York City on Friday, May 31, come see me do Rhapsody in Seth at 7:30PM at Ars Nova. For tickets click here. Make a $25 donation to the Humane Society and send the receipt to SethRudetskyAsst@gmail.com and you'll get confirmation that you have a seat! (Don’t forget, Time Out NY wrote “You probably won’t find a funnier evening in town”—in 2003…but I think it’s still possibly relevant today).

Peace out!

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