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FLASH FRIDAY: Chita Rivera Returns To Broadway! A Career Celebration - WEST SIDE STORY, BYE BYE BIRDIE, CHICAGO, THE VISIT & Much More

Today we are saluting one of the most iconic leading ladies in Broadway history in honor of her recently announced return to Broadway in Kander & Ebb's The Visit, the one and only Chita Rivera.

FLASH FRIDAY: Chita Rivera Returns To Broadway! A Career Celebration - WEST SIDE STORY, BYE BYE BIRDIE, CHICAGO, THE VISIT & Much MoreA Girl Like That

Legends aren't born, they are made. Blessed with an indescribable electricity whenever and wherever she dances, Chita Rivera is one of the most memorable and iconic Broadway performers in theatrical history not only because of the seminal shows with which she was and is associated, but also because of her innate ability to virtually stop the show with a mere movement, no matter how small or subtle it may apear to be. Of course, the fact that she is a commanding actress and formidable vocalist in addition to being a spellbinding physical performer only abets her abilities further, but the incredible power possessed by Rivera as a dancer is something truly beyond words and what initially cemented her place on the Great White Way as one of the very best, now or ever - and, without any doubt whatsoever, she is definitely one of the all-time greats.

Born of Puerto Rican, Italian and Scottish descent, Delores Conchita Figueroa del Rivero was born in Washington, D.C. in 1933 and began formal dance training beginning in 1944, where she was soon discovered by scouts for George Balanchine's School Of American Ballet where she enrolled on a scholarship at the ripe young age of 15. At only 18, she nabbed her first major professional role - in no less than the new Irving Berlin musical, CALL ME MADAM, starring Golden Age heavyweight diva Ethel Merman, ready to embark on a new national tour after its Broadway bow a few months before. Making her debut under those auspices was fortuitous, for sure, but the invaluable knowledge acquired as a result of working on a new musical directed by the two most formidable men in musical theatre - director George Abbott and choreographer Jerome Robbins - only added to the lustrous impact of Rivera's first musical on record. She followed up CALL ME MADAM with Broadway productions, including the original mainstage mountings of Cole Porter's CAN-CAN and Frank Loesser's GUYS & DOLLS. Then, in 1957, Rivera received the role of a lifetime in a daring and audacious new musical based on William Shakespeare's ROMEO & JULIET titled WEST SIDE STORY.

"America". "A Boy Like That". "The Dance At The Gym". Three of the most striking and spectacular moments in the new musical by Leonard Bernstein, Stephen Sondheim and Arthur Laurents were led by Chita Rivera - and WEST SIDE STORY is inextricably linked to her copious, considerable talents, along with those of director/choreographer Jerome Robbbins and assistant choreographer Peter Gennaro, who provided their featured star with the type of showstopping mise en scene she was capable of pulling off in a manner unlike absolutely anybody else. Rivera more or less is Anita and she carried on after receiving the role of a lifetime by nailing another major musical theatre masterpiece in its debut production, this one going on to win Best Musical, the Charles Strouse/Lee Adams/Michael Stewart 1960 mega-hit BYE BYE BIRDIE. Subsequent shows of the era included ZENDA, BAJOUR, FLOWER DRUM SONG, IRMA LA DOUCE and 1491, while Rivera also made notable appearances in the film editions of Bob Fosse smashes SWEET CHARITY, and, much later, CHICAGO.

FLASH FRIDAY: Chita Rivera Returns To Broadway! A Career Celebration - WEST SIDE STORY, BYE BYE BIRDIE, CHICAGO, THE VISIT & Much MoreRivera's relationship with composer John Kander began when Rivera led the national tour of Kander and Fred Ebb's Broadway hit ZORBA in 1970 and that fruitful collaboration would continue on for several decades right up to the present day, with Rivera creating leading roles in the original Broadway productions of Kander & Ebb musicals CHICAGO, THE RINK and KISS OF THE SPIDER WOMAN - the latter two with Rivera winning well-deserved TONY AWARDS for her considerable efforts. Additionally, Rivera has remained a regular on Broadway in the 21st century, with memorable turns in the revivals of NINE and THE MYSTERY OF EDWIN DROOD as well as her own musical showpiece, CHITA RIVERA: THE DANCER'S LIFE. Now, with Kander & Ebb's final musical, The Visit, poised to open later this season, Rivera brings her 60-year career full-circle with a new Broadway starring role certain to introduce her to an entire new generation of theatergoers. To quote a Kander & Ebb gem she famously sings, "How Lucky Can You Get?"

Chita Rivera not only does it all, but does it all with a fiery passion and unmistakable flair that is beyond compare - and, at the same time, oftentimes beyond our wildest imaginations.

Also, for even more, don't miss my extensive 2010 InDepth InterView with Chita Rivera, available here.

Love & Only Love

So, now, let's take a look at some of Chita Rivera's best moments from a legendary career onstage and onscreen.

First up, one of Chita Rivera's earliest TV appearances.

Chita performs the BYE BYE BIRDIE classic "Spanish Rose".

Next, witness Chita reprise CAN-CAN on tour in 1988.

Now, see Rivera in Bob Fosse's film version of SWEET CHARITY.

A HOLLYWOOD PALACE vintage TV showstopper courtesy of Chita.

Also, Rivera candidly recounts her WEST SIDE STORY experiences in THE DANCER'S LIFE.

Check out Chita Rivera and Gwen Verdon in CHICAGO.

Chita gets some able-bodied boys to help with these showstoppers.

Peruse Chita and Liza Minnelli in THE RINK.

Chita and Rosie O'Donnell chum it up on TV with a lively medley.


Chita stops the show with a Kander & Ebb FUNNY LADY standout.

A mysterious look at Chita in KISS OF THE SPIDER WOMAN.


Chita stops the show at the Kennedy Center tribute to Jerry Herman.

Here is Chita Rivera's lavish Kennedy Center Honor tribute.

A fascinating 2013 interview with Rivera.

Lastly, sample Chita Rivera in The Visit.

What is your absolute favorite Chita Rivera performance to date? Furthermore, what musical that she originated a role in do you personally love the most of all? With The Visit ready to take Broadway by storm later this year, the answers to both of those questions could very well change sometime very soon!

FLASH FRIDAY: Chita Rivera Returns To Broadway! A Career Celebration - WEST SIDE STORY, BYE BYE BIRDIE, CHICAGO, THE VISIT & Much More

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From This Author Pat Cerasaro

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