BWW Review: CHITA RIVERA, Cadogan Hall
At 86, Chita Rivera could easily justify putting her feet up a little. She first performed in London back in 1958 in the iconic role of Anita in West Side Story and has never stopped since. She returned to the capital this weekend for two one-off concerts, chronicling her life and amazing career.
The word legend is overused these days, but Rivera can truly justify the title. She has been nominated 10 times for a Tony Award, which is the joint record for number of nominations. In 1984 she starred in The Rink with Liza Minnelli and won her first (of two) Tony Award for her role as Anna and in 2018 she received the Special Tony Award for Lifetime Achievement in the Theatre.
A veteran of the golden age of musical theatre on Broadway, her work is wide and varied. In 1960 she was Rose in Bye Bye Birdie, in 1975 she created and played the original Velma Kelly in Chicago, and in 1993 she played Aurora in Kiss Of The Spiderwoman.
A so-called 'triple threat', as she can sing, act and dance, she still cut a formidable figure on the stage of Cadogan Hall, raising a standing ovation before she had even opened her mouth. What followed was a show of pure musical magic, presided over by a remarkable performer.
Rivera is a consummate professional, holding the audience in the palm of her hand as she recalled stories such as sitting with John Kander, composer of Chicago, as he played her the first tantalising chords of the masterful score or how she tried not to be sick in Leonard Bernstein's lap as he introduced her to the score for West Side Story.
The music was, naturally, wonderful for any musical theatre fan. Backed by a fantastic 12 piece orchestra directed by Michael Croiter, the audience was treated to gems such as "A Lot Of Livin' To Do" and "Rosie" from Bye Bye Birdie and a dizzyingly energetic version of "Carousel" by Jacques Brel.
There were also moments of pure, spine-tingling brilliance. Her role as Anita in West Side Story was career-defining and here she treated the audience to her trademark husky mezzo in "A Boy Like That", "America" and an overwhelmingly emotional version of "Somewhere" with the Arts Choir.
Rivera is clearly a woman who likes to have fun and wants her audience to have as good a time as possible. She is natural, humble and eager to share her stories. She has the audience in fits of laughter as she recollects her dismayed reaction when asked to play Liza Minnelli's mother, rather than her friend in The Rink and how she tried to get her leg ever higher over Antonio Banderas' shoulder when they starred together in Nine.
Her rendition of "Camille, Colette, Fifi" from Seventh Heaven showed her sing all three parts to hilarious effect. She also had great fun with "Nowadays", where she gently imitated her old friend and partner from Chicago, Gwen Verdon.
It is rare to see an audience more in love with the talent on stage. Rivera is a rare gem from a bygone age, but who remains as current and relevant as ever. There are many performers who show huge talent and skill, but few who are true icons. Rivera really is one of those.
Photo Credit: Jamie Casertano