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BWW Review: Chita Rivera, Complete With Frills and Feathers, Entertains In Café Carlyle Run

BWW Review: Chita Rivera, Complete With Frills and Feathers, Entertains In Café Carlyle Run
Chita Rivera onstage at Café Carlyle, where she is currently performing in a two-week run.
Photos: David Andrako

"Shouldn't I be somewhere at 8:00?"

That is a fair reaction for the Chita Rivera to have to once seeing boards and bus ads for CHIGAGO, BYE BYE BIRDIE, and WEST SIDE STORY a few years back while they were all simultaneously running, a story she regaled the audience with in the intro to her WEST SIDE medley at the Café Carlyle last week. When your name has become synonymous with iconic shows, maybe as iconic as the shows themselves, you have somewhere to be at 8:00... and people will be there to see.

Rivera's current run at the Carlyle, which continues through May 20, is, indeed, a people-pleaser. Taking the audience on a tour through her illustrious career, she sang and shimmied through a set including numbers from CHICAGO, KISS OF THE SPIDER WOMAN, THE VISIT, and more, some with little to no frills, some quite literally frilly and feathery. (A feather boa made an appearance.)

There's plenty to entertain. Rivera leads with "A Lot of Living To Do" (Charles Strouse/Lee Adams)---that she does---and wraps with Carol Hall's "Circle of Friends." It's a whirlwind, usually worth it. A humorous "Camille, Collette, Fifi" by Stella Unger and Victor Young (with the aforementioned boa) has Rivera playing all eponymous characters with a wide range of voices and makes you believe she could probably do SEVENTH HEAVEN all on her own this time around.

A performer of Rivera's magnitude is exceedingly rare. She performs with as much gusto as she has since taking the stage as a dancer in CALL ME MADAM, 66 years ago, so much so that it occasionally made her usually stellar band (musical director Michael Croiter on percussion and guitar, Jim Donica on bass, Dan Willis on reeds, and Jason Loffredo on piano) look bored in comparison.

BWW Review: Chita Rivera, Complete With Frills and Feathers, Entertains In Café Carlyle Run
Rivera sings from SEVENTH HEAVEN at Café Carlyle.

But Chita gets away with a lot because she's, well, Chita, with a capital C, up in lights, feathers, frills, and so much more. She has won two Tony Awards (THE RINK and THE KISS OF THE SPIDER WOMAN) and garnered an additional eight nominations, as well as holding the honor as the first Hispanic woman and Latino American to ever receive a Kennedy Center honor. All of this is for good reason, and if you've seen her stint at Carnegie Hall this past fall or one of the many other larger stages in her career she's inhabited, it's evident. Carnegie Hall can hold such a personality; it's tough to make the argument if Café Carlyle can. Almost too big for the room, her voice is frequently overwhelmed by the band behind her unless you happen to be sitting with arms reach.

As a result, some questionable choices are made. Brel's "Carousel," a mile of words a minute, is ambitious but overly so. Feeling the whirling of the music around you and listening to her perform, again overpowered by the band, it can feel like she's lost in the small room.

The evening's shakiest moments come when the control and balance between her, the music, and the band go out the window. Some of Rivera's toned down, frill-less numbers toward the end of her set were the best of the evening. Two numbers from her Kander & Ebb section, "Winter" and "Love and Love Alone" (THE VISIT), are simple, relaxed, sublime. You can't take your eyes off her. Throughout the evening, she tells a lot of stories and these songs are stories in their own right, ones you hope go on and on.

They may be the best songs of the set, but that's not what people have come out to see. They want CHICAGO, and Rivera is happy to oblige. Acknowledging the vamp to "All That Jazz" is one of the best in showbiz as she told of her excitement the first time hearing it (according to Rivera, Kander saw her joy and said, "Take it easy, Chita. That's just the vamp; there's a whole song.") her one-two punch of "Nowadays" and "All That Jazz" is worth the price of admission, even if they are to be expected.

But it's impossible to not enjoy a Chita Rivera show, cane in hand and top hat on, stories galore. Even when those stories go on and on, you want to hear them, even if you've heard them before. She undoubtedly commands a room. That's just Chita and she will always do that, no matter the room, crowd, or song selection. A hit show is just fine, but there will always be a place for Chita Rivera---at 8:00 or otherwise---if she ever wants to try something a little more unexpected.


Chita Rivera continues her run at the Café Carlyle through May 20. For tickets and information, visit www.rosewoodhotels.com.

Ashley Steves is BroadwayWorld's Cabaret Editor and an arts and entertainment writer based in New York. Follow her on Twitter @NoThisIsAshley.


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