BYE BYE BIRDIE Flashback Interview: Chita Rivera
The incomparable Chita Rivera released a new solo studio album entitled And Now I Swing on October 13, 2009 from the newly-launched Yellow Sound Label. From classic theater songs to jazz standards, all tracks featured on this new album have received new arrangements recorded by New York's finest musicians, reimagining some of Chita's favorite tunes. BroadwayWorld.com checked in with the legendary star.
An accomplished and versatile actress/singer/dancer, Chita Rivera has won two Tony Awards® as Best Leading Actress in a Musical and received seven additional Tony® nominations. She recently starred in the Broadway and touring productions of The Dancer's Life, a dazzling new musical celebrating her spectacular career, written by Terence McNally and directed by Graciela Daniele. Chita was awarded The Presidential Medal of Freedom by President Barack Obama on August 12, 2009. She received the coveted Kennedy Center Honor in Washington, DC in December 2002, and was the first Hispanic ever chosen to receive this award. It was her electric performance as Anita in the Broadway premiere of West Side Story (1957) which brought her stardom. She starred in the original Broadway productions of such landmark musicals as Chicago, The Rink, Kiss of the Spider Woman and Bye Bye Birdie, among many others.
Bye Bye Birdie stars John Stamos (Albert Peterson), Gina Gershon (Rose Alvarez) & Bill Irwin (Mr. Harry MacAfee) with Jayne Houdyshell (Mrs. Mae Peterson), Dee Hoty (Mrs. MacAfee) & Nolan Gerard Funk as "Conrad Birdie." The cast also features Matt Doyle (Hugo Peabody), Neil McCaffrey (Randolph MacAfee) and Allie Trimm (Kim MacAfee).
BYE BYE BIRDIE is directed and choreographed by Robert Longbottom with a book by Michael Stewart, music by Charles Strouse and lyrics by Lee Adams. On Broadway at the Henry Miller's Theatre (124 West 43rd Street). Limited engagement through: Sunday, April 25th, 2010.
Tell us about the first moments of BYE BYE BIRDIE first coming together while working on the original production.
It was pure entertainment. If someone was unhappy, all they had to do was go in there and hear Paul Lynde. All they had to do was see the brilliance of Gower Champion's choreography- I mean, that "Shriner's Ballet" was brilliant without... me. I mean, the front kick dance was absolutely brilliantly conceived; I mean you can just see this in the movie, she's dancing with a suitcase- it's a solo- she's dancing with this briefcase, and it's him in her mind, and she goes through her, all the emotional turmoil she feels, and then she goes through this love feeling for this briefcase, who is really Albert, and then all of a sudden she gets pissed at this suitcase, you know, who is really Albert, and she finally at the end of the number throws it into the wings, and out steps Albert.
It says three pages of book, you know what I mean? It was just that brilliantly conceived. And a number called "A Hundred Ways to Kill a Man", it was hilarious- it was just fantastic, absolutely. And then there was the score, which made you just the happiest person in the world, (she scats the score), I mean, you just want to get up and dance!
It's so true, it's so true. The music, you hear just a little bit of it, just one or two chords and suddenly you know what it is, and you're, like, lit up.
Even now, in my one-woman show, I do "A Lot of Livin'", and I do about three of the songs, because these songs today, even with a different beat, with a jazz beat, are very hip, are very very hip, and very melodic. It reminds you of a time of innocence, an absolute time of innocence, and that's what's so beautiful about, at least the Birdie that I know.
Yeah, I haven't see the new one...
Of course, you're talking about Dick Van Dyke... You're talking about the one and only Dick Van Dyke, you're talking about the one and only Paul Lynde, and Kay Medford, who is not Jewish at all, who played the Jewish mother- and it could have been an insulting kind of thing because, at the beginning she was calling me all kinds of names, as Rose, and I had to realize that this is really funny. If you felt really horrible during the day, go see the Bye Bye Birdie of 19- whatever year it was, and you were uplifted.
How was that first audience, after that first performance? What was the energy like?