BWW Feature: CHITA! THE BEST OF THE BEST OF THE BEST! at The Wallis Annenberg Center For The Performing Arts
If you don't know who Chita is, all you have to do is click here and that should get you up to speed, somewhat. As I write this, she is being honored tonight, May 14th, 2018 by the Actor's Fund as one of their Medal of Honor recipients.
She is the essence of what a true Broadway ICON should be... CHITA Rivera is ICONIC, yes, and LEGENDARY, and a living triple-threat, two-time Tony Award winning DANCER, ACTRESS, SINGER, not to mention entertaining, humorous, clever, beautiful, down-to-earth, honest, humble, brave, a role model, heartwarming, wise, a trailblazer, knows how to razzle-dazzle 'em and so much more.
I do mention DANCE, first, because that is what CHITA exemplifies and epitomizes the most... A Dancer's Dancer. In her Soul. Every move she makes, every flick-kick, tip of the hat with those teacup hands, strut, hip movement and shoulder shake are stylized and perfected through endless repetition that makes it look as easy as breathing, and with a timeless force of inner energy, she turns it out!
Her Performances at the Wallis Annenberg were a part of the BROADWAY @ THE WALLIS Series. Her first Show was sold out so fast, they added another, barely 15 minutes apart! In one evening, Chita Rivera gave us all of her, which she always does, and with such reverence to the Art of Dance, Theater, Interpretation and just sheer Pizz-azz!
Her partner/our host for the evening is Seth Rudetsky, a well-known "deconstructor" of Broadway shows and pianist/accompanist extraordinaire. He guides her through memories, accompanies and sings duets with Chita, as they casually engage in tripping down memory lane, him questioning her on an array of subjects, a lot to do with dance, how she began, how she is still doing what she's doing and doing it grandly, and how she feels about all of this.
It is an intimate and special tour through Chita's illustrious career; fond and funny incidents from her remarkable past, the examination of Fred Ebb's exceptional lyrics, who, partnering with John Kander was one of the longest-running and most successful creative partnerships in Broadway history. Their bold, brassy style gave rise a series of enormously popular and provocative musicals including Cabaret, Chicago, and Kiss of the Spider Woman. The triumvirate of Fosse, Kander & Ebb have played a major part in Chita's unparalleled career and shaped her golden path through the decades.
It is the relaxed style of the evening that makes it even more enjoyable. Intermittently, she sings the songs, with Seth lavishingly accompanying her on the piano, from some of her numerous hit Broadway Shows; BYE, BYE, BIRDIE, CHICAGO, THE RINK, WEST SIDE STORY, KISS OF THE SPIDER WOMAN and THE VISIT. Between her emotive renditions she and Seth Rudetsky chat, dish, give us the scoop, and reminisce on her early dance training, which, no surprise, was ballet, and her rambunctiousness as a young girl that was influential in her ambition to succeed; wonderful stories of some of her co-stars on and off stage, about her choreographers that she worked and collaborated with through the years, and just spur-of-the-moment amusing banter and repartee'.
Just hearing her recount stories of working with Leonard Bernstein, Bob Fosse, Peter Gennaro, Jerome Robbins and George Balanchine takes you back to that prolific era on Broadway where there was an abundance of creative talent and budgets to match.
It's when she vocalizes the captivating lyrics and accents the beats of the music with her Fosse-style movements, and throws her emotions into what the song is saying, that you realize just how complete an entertainer she is, and that you are watching pure, seasoned talent to the nth degree.
Each song she sang was precluded by a bit of history about the show it was in, and each song was better than the next. Among the favorites were "An English Teacher," from BYE BYE BIRDIE, "A Boy Like That" and "America" from WEST SIDE STORY, "Chief Cook and Bottle Washer," from THE RINK, "Love and Love Alone," from THE VISIT, which was very moving and impactful, and of course, from CHICAGO, "Class," "Nowadays," and the always standing-ovation-causing "All That Jazz." And while singing "Nowadays," she also does the best Gwen Verdon imitation you'll ever hear!
Chita and Seth are a delight together, and our time with them just slips by so quickly. The audience absolutely adores her. She is a true treasure that remains revered and respected for her phenomenal body of work in the Theatre and her indomitable spirit that transcends across the footlights.
Photos by Wallis Annenberg