Monday, January 6, 2014

2014 Interview with Icon Chita Rivera

(photo right by Monica Simoes/ October 7, 2013)

Triple threat Broadway legend Chita Rivera will bring her iconic class and showmanship to the Valley Performing Arts Center January 25 for one performance only at 8 pm. In our chat she tells us a little bit about the new show and talks in great detail about the joys of her career.

Can you give us a tease as to what you will be doing in your show Chita Rivera: A Legendary Celebration at the Valley Performing Arts Center on the 25th?

Numbers that I’ve done in my night club act…down memory lane. Very similar to the show that we did for Broadway Cares in New York on October 7 this past year, but I will not have Ben Vereen or Tommy Tune or my six boys with me.

You by yourself onstage will be a treat.

You have amazingly starred or co-starred in well over 30 great Broadway shows since the 1950s. I’ll give you a show, not in any particular time sequence, and please respond, if you will, with your fondest memory/memories of the show or…the first thing that pops into your head about it…

Zorba the Greek (1969)

I had a great time with Zorba…we travelled a lot…I was almost run over by our star John Raitt; he had to dance with me, and he was a big man. It was wonderful, but he almost ran over me; had he run over me, we wouldn’t be talking. My daughter was in it (Lisa Mordente); that was great; she could travel in the show with me. It was a great show to do.

Sweet Charity (1967)

The movie was great with Paula (Kelly) and Shirley (MacLaine). We had a blast. And when I did the National Company, I remember a basketball team saying they would hate to run into me in a dark alley at night. I think that was a compliment about how tough that show was to do for Charity, how much stamina you’d have to have.

The Rink (1984)

That was delicious. It was a little odd playing Liza’s (Minnelli) mother, but, aside from that, we got a couple of laughs out of that. It was divine, because she’s my buddy and it was just a fabulous experience to be with Freddy and John (Kander & Ebb), and Liza, and Scott Ellis and all these guys. It was a lot of fun.

West Side Story (1957)

Jerome Robbins. That’s the thing that comes up. And I got married in that show, I had my baby in that show; a lot of memories of that show. I mean…Jerry said “The Sharks are not to even speak to the Jets.” Well, I showed him. I went and married one. (Tony Mordente)  West Side was a change of life practically.

Kiss of the Spider Woman (1992)

Well, that was rich and dark and sensuous and sad and violent…and Brent Carver was just totally amazing. It was a fabulous show; I thought it was a perfect show. It’s a story that should be told about the differences in people. I considered it a love story. These two men who were so opposite would normally think they would not need each other; in actuality, they did. They formed a great bond. It was such a dramatic and exciting show.

Bye Bye Birdie (1960) 

Fun…a comic strip…Paul Lynde, Dick Van Dyke, who’s just the greatest thing walking…that was the other side of the coin. West Side on one side and Bye Bye Birdie on the other. It was one of the most fun times I’ve had.

Can-Can (1953/1988)

Can-Can was great. That was my introduction to Gwen (Verdon) in New York, and then when I did it with the Rockettes, we went to Japan. We went all over. It’s a girls’ show. I love it. It’s great dancing, Alan Johnson’s dancing, great music, so it was a great experience.

Nine (2005)

Antonio Banderas. Do I have to say any more? (we laugh) Antonio Banderas. I thought it was beautifully directed and designed, and to work with Antonio was just amazing. He’s far greater than anybody even realizes. He should still be doing theatre. He should have won the Tony that year. It was a joy working with him, and actually, I took that show, because I knew that he would blow the top off Broadway. I just decided that I wanted to ride on his tail.

The Visit (2001)
There were several incarnations of this show. What’s changed from production to production?

Direction. And cast. We’ve done one and then an Aids benefit for it. We’re going to do another, and this will actually be our third incarnation. It’s dark, rich…everybody thinks it’s a story about revenge, it’s not. It’s a love story. It’s a real European love story. The cast is extraordinary, the score is fabulous…we just can’t wait to do it.

Chita Rivera: The Dancer’s Life (2005)

That was a blast, to be able to tell the stories and to look around and see my buddies dancing with me. And to expose myself, my real self like that. I thought it was wonderfully done. Then and now, young dancers have said that they learned a lot from the different styles of the choreographers. It was meant to be an educational thing also. I just loved it; I really had a great time.

Chicago (1975)

I saw you do that show about 10 times on Broadway. Your entrance from beneath the stage was thrilling.

Wasn’t that something?!

Why did it take 20 years for Chicago to pick up the awards it deserved?

I don’t think you can compare our show with the show today. We had a show; we had a huge show. The original show was the show. And Gwen (Verdon)? ...OMG… You know, time and life has its…it calls its own shots. A lot of time, money has something to do it. Please… you never know...Chicago's turned into something else now. I love the fact that it’s on and all of that, but it’s not what it was, that old great Vaudeville, old-style Chicago gangster thing.

Do you have a favorite of any of those shows?

I really can’t say. They were all the cat’s meow. West Side opened the door for so many of us. But…they’re all a huge part of me. I loved Spider Woman.

I can’t believe that you didn’t win a Tony for West Side Story. It doesn’t make sense.

It doesn’t always make sense. If you go into it thinking “I really want this!”, you don’t have any satisfaction. And it really doesn’t matter. It honestly doesn’t.

You did a drama a few year ago, The House of Bernarda Alba at the Mark Taper Forum. Did you enjoy doing this non-musical?

I did, but I thought it was odd that I had two Asian daughters. I said, “Ok, art!” Several people jumped the fence, but…I loved that play, and I would love to have done the play again, in another way.

Would you like to have done more dramatic roles?

You know something…I don’t want to say I would like to have done anything. I have had, and am still having a fabulous time. I’ve had a tremendous quantity of wonderful experiences. I tell a story in my show about…a few years ago, walking down a street and seeing a poster of the revival of Bye Bye Birdie. I went, “Oh, that’s nice!” I walked a little further, and there was a great poster of a blonde in a short black sequin dress, straddling a chair and it said Chicago. And I went, “Oo…that’s fabulous!” All of a sudden a big old bus goes by and it says West Side Story. And I say to myself, “Shouldn’t I be some place at eight o’clock tonight?” (we laugh) You know what I mean. There’s three right there....still playing.

They’re still going strong, just like you!

And I’m still having beautiful experiences. This Broadway Cares Benefit on October 7, that we raised so much money for…that was an extraordinary experience.

Are there any young triple threat artists, who are up and coming, that you particularly like?

Laura Benanti, I like a lot. She’s a beautiful girl. She was great in Nine. She’s having a good time, and I told her she better have a good time. This is her life. And you’ve got to have a good time; you have to be in your moment.  You can’t be someplace else.

What’s your secret for longevity and a great life?

I really appreciate my life. I honestly appreciate my family. The fact that I am alive and able to do what I really love to do. I’ve got the best friends in the world.

And we really appreciate this great lady! See her up close and personal in Chita Rivera: A Legendary Celebration at the Valley Performing Arts Center in Northridge one night only Saturday January 25.

Here are Chita's exclusive tour dates for 2014:

January 22 – Vitterboro University-Fine Arts Center, La Crosse, WI
January 25 - Valley Perf Arts Center, Northridge, CA
8:00 PM  Box Office: 818.677.3000

January 26 – Haugh Performing Arts Center, Glendora, CA

February 21 – McCallum Theatre, Palm Desert, CA
8:00 PM
Box Office: 760.340.2787

February 23 – Venetian Room at the Fairmont, San Francisco, CA
3:00 PM & 7:30 PM  -   City Box Office (415) 392-4400.

 February 24 & 25 – Harris Center, Folsom, CA
Box Office: 916-608-6888

March 7 – Aventura Arts & Cultural Center, Aventura, FL
8:00 PM

Box Office: 954-462-0222

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