Chita: A Legendary Celebration
By: Paulanne Simmons
At an age when many people enjoy sitting by the pool sipping a Diet Coke, Chita Rivera is still doing what she knows and loves best: singing, dancing and inspiring audiences of all ages. On Nov. 19, that audience was at Kingsborough Community College, where her show was the first in On Stage at Kingsborough’s 2016-2017 Cabaret Series.
Dressed in stylish and youthful black, and backed by an ensemble of three – Michael Croiter (musical director) on percussion and guitar, Michael Patrick Walker (associate musical director) on piano and Jim Donica on bass – Chita performed many of the songs from the shows that have made her famous: West Side Story, Kiss of the Spider Woman, The Rink, Chicago, as well as her most recent show, The Visit.
Happily, Rivera has starred in a great variety of parts. She’s been a Puerto Rican bombshell (West Side Story) a dance hall hostess (Sweet Charity), a temptress diva (Kiss of the Spider Woman) and herself (The Dancer’s Life). In A Legendary Celebration, she told the the stories behind how she got those famous roles, mostly through phone calls from friends and colleagues such as Leonard Bernstein, Cy Coleman, and John Kander and Fred Ebb. Rivera was always gracious and thankful. She presented herself as someone who was always surprised and delighted by the opportunities she was offered. With tongue-in-cheek rue, she remembered her excitement when she found out she was going to be in a show with her friend, Liza Minelli, until she found out she was going to play her mother. That show was The Rink. Even though we know that at the hight of her stardom such offers could hardly have been astonishing, her modesty is refreshing.
Equally endearing was Rivera’s concern for the younger generation, or the “kids” who are the future of the entertainment world. She was always encouraging and sympathetic. Despite the heights of her success, she remembered how difficult the climb was.
Indeed, Rivera recalled her trepidation at stepping into Gwen Verdon’s shoes when she took over the lead in the touring Sweet Charity, and she advised young people to just “Bring your own shoes.”
Happily that is what Rivera has done and continues to do in her decades-long career.
The Leon M. Goldstein Performing Arts Center at Kingsborogh Community College is located at 2001 Oriental Blvd in Brooklyn, http://www.onstageatkingsborough.org/cabaret.