BROADWAY RECALL: Spooky Times With Chita Rivera

October 29
8:31 AM 2011

Welcome to BROADWAY RECALL, a bi-monthly column where's Chief Theatre Critic, Michael Dale, delves into the archives and explores the stories behind the well-known and the not so well-known videos and photographs of Broadway's past. Look for BROADWAY RECALL every other Saturday.

BROADWAY RECALL: Spooky Times With Chita RiveraIt took only a few seasons for Chita Rivera to climb Broadway's ladder from replacement chorus dancer in Can-Can to a small role in Seventh Heaven to a small role with a solo song in Mr. Wonderful to the star's standby in Shinbone Alley to her breakout performance as Anita in West Side Story. Her next musical, Bye, Bye, Birdie, would graduate the woman who to this day considers herself a Broadway gypsy into the small circle of one of musical theatre's most beloved leading ladies. (Despite her Tony Award nomination that year as Best Featured Actress.)

But she almost didn't take the role of Rosie, as she explained to Richard Ridge in a 2008 edition of Broadway Beat.


Fortunately, during the run of Bye, Bye, Birdie, Rivera was invited by Ed Sullivan to perform on his weekly program, giving us documentation of her "Spanish Rose." Here you can see some of the many qualities that make Chita Rivera a master of the underrated craft of acting for the musical stage. Unlike actors in straight plays, musical actors must, of course, create their characters within the confines of specific tones and rhythms that are a permanent part of the text. In this spoof of Spanish stereotypes, Rivera's movements, through Gower Champion's choreography, provide a comical interpretation of the embellishments in Robert Ginzler's orchestrations. Watch in particular seconds 40-1:10 where every movement of her body corresponds to the arrangement's musical phrases. (By the way, if anyone knows the story of why "Allentown, Pa." was replaced with "Far Rockaway," please drop me a line.)


But this is Halloween weekend and one of the reasons I bring up Chita Rivera at this time is to share this wonderfully campy/spooky performance from a 1964 telecast of the television variety show, The Entertainers, featuring Rivera, Carol Burnett, Caterina Valente and Boris Karloff.


Boris Karloff Carol Burnett sing by NilbogLAND

And long before she planted her first kiss as the Spider Woman, Chita Rivera filled a Halloween-worthy spider outfit on The Carol Burnett Show, dancing to Blood, Sweat and Tears' "Lucretia McEvil."


Photo by Ben Strothman.

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Michael Dale After 20-odd years singing, dancing and acting in dinner theatres, summer stocks and the ever-popular audience participation murder mysteries (try improvising with audiences after they?ve had two hours of open bar), Michael Dale segued his theatrical ambitions into playwriting. The buildings which once housed the 5 Off-Off Broadway plays he penned have all been destroyed or turned into a Starbucks, but his name remains the answer to the trivia question, "Who wrote the official play of Babe Ruth's 100th Birthday?" He served as Artistic Director for The Play's The Thing Theatre Company, helping to bring free live theatre to underserved communities, and dabbled a bit in stage managing and in directing cabaret shows before answering the call (it was an email, actually) to become's first Chief Theatre Critic. While not attending shows Michael can be seen at Citi Field pleading for the Mets to stop imploding. Likes: Strong book musicals and ambitious new works. Dislikes: Unprepared celebrities making their stage acting debuts by starring on Broadway and weak bullpens.


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