Broadway Loves Chita! Stars Gush Over THE VISIT Legend at Lunch
At a celebration lunch was held at New York City's swanky Four Seasons Restaurant earlier this week, May 26, in honor of Chita Rivera's Tony nominated performance in Broadway's THE VISIT. Hosted by Liz Smith and Edgar Bronfman, Jr., a slew of special guests came to celebrate the Broadway icon.
Among the attendees were Joel Grey, Bernadette Peters, Bebe Neuwirth, Tyne Daly, Tommy Tune, Andy Carl, Laura Michelle Kelly, and the cast of THE VISIT, as well as director John Doyle and playwright Terrence McNally.
Scroll down to see what they had to say about Chita, and click here for all the photos from the luncheon!
"When I think of Chita -- let's begin with legendary and icon, let's say Anita in WEST SIDE STORY -- life changing for a little brown girl from Tennessee and a huge admirer of her longevity and her work."Tom Kirdahy (Producer of The Visit) "Viva Chita!! It's all Chita -- all the time! Working with Chita... I think there is only one person that is as passionate as I am with this musical, and her name is Chita Rivera. We laugh, we cry, but we are filled with gratitude. There has been no greater professional experience than watching a true master and learning from her every step of the way. I love her." Micah Stock "What I remember is that Terrence was receiving an award from G.M.H.C. in the fall, and everyone came out to honor him, and Chita sang a song from THE VISIT, and I had never seen her perform live before, and everything that Tom and Terrence had told me about who she was as a performer, and certainly what I had heard about her being a legend and all of that, came true in that moment. And she spoke so beautifully about her long-standing relationship with Kander and Ebb and Terrence and how special that was to her as an artist. And she is not only an incredible performer but seemingly a very selfless person, so I am honored to be here today."David Garrison "I am desperately completely and totally in love with Chita Rivera. I have never worked with a leading lady who is so committed to just the process. She describes herself as a gypsy, and that is what she is proudest of, and that's what she does. Watching her on stage each night is like watching a master class. I don't know how she does it -- she can command a stage with the flick of an eye brow or the lift of a pinky. It's extraordinary, and she lifts her leg just two inches off the ground and you could swear you just saw her do a grand jeté. It's such an extraordinary use of economy, and she can command a stage by standing still and you can't take your eyes off of her." Harriet Harris "You can see Chita on Broadway in KISS OF THE SPIDER WOMAN and you know you are seeing quite a performance. And then you see her at Birdland, a much more intimate setting, and everything she does seems appropriate for both those places. And I can't tell if she is doing the same thing from one stage to another, but it's just perfect for the circumstances. She is a phenomenon."Tommy Tune "Chita, Chita, Chita!! It was a life of thrills watching Chita onstage in WEST SIDE STORY, and I think back to MR. WONDERFUL, and it goes on and on to CHICAGO and THE RINK. Chita is pretty damn prolific. She goes on and on. My favorite performance is the one she is doing now in THE VISIT. It's exquisite. It shows restraint. Someone said that "art is restraint," so we are having Chita's art onstage nightly in THE VISIT, and dancing with Chita is like, "How do you hold a fire cracker in your hands?" Edgar Bronfman Jr. I think she is one of the most remarkable people I have ever met. One of the nicest ,which is fairly amazing for being in show business as long as she has and she is simply incredibly talented and incredibly riveting onstage and her range is extraordinary and it's just been an incredible pleasure for me to be a part of "The Visit" and to be apart of Chita's life however briefly it has been. She teaches you what a professional is. She is gracious and graceful at the same time, thoughtful, but always demanding that the best be the best in a way that is so loving and supporting that everyone has to rise to the occasion and it has been a real lesson for me to watch that." Laura Michelle Kelly "I met Chita when she was high-kicking on top of a ladder as Roxie in CHICAGO in London and rumors were that she was in her mid 70s, and she looked amazing, and she looks that amazing and even better now. I met her through a friend, and she has never forgotten me. She has never changed. She is always nice to everybody. She loves what she does, and she's still going. She's just brilliant and she's so passionate. People love her because she's lovely. She stays true to herself." Max von Essen "Chita's been part of my upbringing as far as I can remember. I used to listen to THE RINK as a kid, and once YouTube came along I used to look at old clips. And when KISS OF THE SPIDER WOMAN came out, it was one of the most influential shows for me. I was just at the age -- you know, high school -- and everything you are seeing is...you can't get enough of what you are seeing, and I would go see it multiple times, and I couldn't believe that I was seeing and studying her career, and how she was killing it on stage and everything I have seen her do. Like in NINE when she had one moment, and you are on the edge of your seat, and everything else just stops. She just has this incredible way, and then seeing her in her nightclub act at Birdland. She is just honestly getting better with age. Just incredible." Ben Vereen "What Chita means to me is everything! I'm going to marry her if she likes it or not, in this life or the next. I think she is brilliant. She is the breath of what we do in this business. I have learned so much not only as a performer but as a person. She's my spiritual consultant -- my spiritual queen. When I had my accident I called her, and I was in tears, and I asked her 'will I ever dance again?' And there was a long pause, and she came back and she said, 'Yes, you will dance again, but you will dance again differently.' So 'Viva la difference!' and I am dancing today."Bebe Neuwirth "I danced with Chita at the Kennedy Center Honors and I said, 'Oh Lord.' I came across the stage, and I looked up and there was Chita Rivera coming at me doing the same steps I was. It doesn't get any better than that. I can't put into words what it is like dancing with her, but if you could take the word joy and exponentially increase it until your head bursts open and flowers and rainbows and sparkles come out, that's what it feels like dancing with her!" Bernadette Peters "First of all in THE VISIT, she is riveting and is such a gift to watch. Onstage is where she gives us her gift and as a person, she is so divine, so lovely, and so real, and just so talented."Joel Grey "Chita is the essence of the best of musical Broadway, and I have known her forever, which says a great deal about how long I've been around. I remember the first time I saw her at the Grand Finale, and she was doing her act with the boys, and it was staggeringly good. She is the best of the best!"Liz Smith "Chita was singled out by George Balenchine when she was only 9. She won the Tony for THE RINK and then for KISS OF THE SPIDER WOMAN. In 60 years, this actress has never failed the theatre. Throughout her years there were two guys she feel in love with, Kander and Ebb. She has been ours through think and thin. If you can believe this, I first saw her onstage in the national tour of CALL ME MADAM when I was out visiting my friend Elaine Stritch, who was starring in the show, and she introduced me to this young girl in the show who was so much fun and so talented that even Elaine Stritch predicted stardom for her, and you know how it hurt Elaine to predict that! This is a girl -- and what a girl -- who is in a class by herself. She is the sexiest, most commanding and more talented than just about anybody." Andy Karl "She is the sexiest lady I have ever met in my life. She has litterly wrapped her legs around me onstage in front of thousands of people in 'DROOD'. So I feel blessed to have worked with her. She would do splits in the middle of rehearsal! The Broadway work ethic begins and ends with Chita Rivera. There is something about her that keeps everything very fun, but she is also truly dedicated and she will make you work harder just by watching her, so I have been privileged to be a part of that and take that forever with me.Orfeh
"I got to see Andy and Chita the night they were the couple in 'DROOD,' and it was the funniest thing. It was fantastic. There are people whose careers you would like to emulate, and she is on that list. Where you say, 'I hope I can do this, and I hope I am still relevant and being celebrated.' It's something to look forward to and someone to look up to, and she had a really good time with my husband, so she has good taste."Victoria Clark "Chita is my Idol. She's everyone's Idol. She has theatre in her veins, and she has greasepaint in her blood. This lady is the legend, and she is an inspiration, and we all want to be Chita, now and forever."Tovah Feldshuh "It meant so much for me to be here today. I'm working in Atlanta on THE WALKING DEAD, and I traveled thousands of miles to be with Chita today because Chita is still a person in process, and that is a lesson for all of us. And I understand that she wants to be on THE WALKING DEAD, so I'm going to have to speak to management down there. So baby, come my way, because God knows I've been coming your way all my life, and I want to thank her for years of illuminating live performances. Chita, you are far wiser than you have ever been, and we love you, and you are a beacon for all of us." Sydney Lucas "I loved Chita ever since I met her. She made me feel welcome, she made me feel comfortable. I remember I didn't have my Tony nomination pin on, and she did, and she asked me, 'Where is your Tony nomination pin?' And I was like, 'I forgot it.' And she gave me hers. I got to wear Chita Rivera's Tony nomination pin! And then we took pictures. And there is a picture of me wearing her pin on my collar, and her in the back hugging me. She is so nice and inspiring. She's a legend!" Terrence McNally "Chita is a goddess. She is the best. She sets the bar for all of us. She works with integrity and passion and spontaneity and the discipline that I still learn from every performance. She is a role model for us all. For writers as well as other performers. THE VISIT is a dream come true, but I always knew it would come true. The show is too good. And I said, 'When the time is right, it will come to New York,' and it did, and here we are. We waited for the right team and we found them. The very best."
And last but not least, Chita Rivera herself on THE VISIT and more."Well, it's been like 14 years, and we have finally gotten the show up. And Barry Brown is here today at the lunch, and he is the one who brought this piece to John Kander and Fred Ebb, and it's so great to see him here, but it's also great to be in this very chic, beautiful, fabulous restaurant. All of the kids in the show are here, and that makes me happy, and then to see Bernadette, and Joel and Ben and Tommy and Bebe and Tyne. It's a great afternoon.
"THE VISIT really solves problems. You have something you are unhappy about, and suddenly you're allowed to walk into this beautiful painting that director John Doyle has made for us. I'm always looking forward to doing the show. It just kind of makes you feel good. You know that this is a wonderful piece of art, and I am so proud of it. John and Freddy and Terrence. They are my family, my guys -- they're my talent! I don't know who or what I would be without them. They are responsible for my Tonys. So many pieces of art that I have been blessed to do, and for this time in my life, to give me this? This is swell and it's too good."When you're a dancer you just expect to dance for the rest of your life, and you don't expect things like a beautiful luncheon with magnificent people in a magnificent restaurant and seeing my old buddies. We have all done this together, and we are still doing it, and it's exciting that we are still allowed to do it. And for me, at this time in my life, I never expected to have a magnificent piece and to meet new and phenomenal actors that have made me even better at this age. And that Terrence is still making me speak properly and John, and of course Freddy, from above, are still assisting me to sing things that I feel from my heart. And thanking God for letting me still be here to do it."
Photos by Timmy Blupe