Playing to a sold-out house of adoring fans, singer-actor-dancer Chita Rivera, née Dolores Conchita Figueroa del Rivero, demonstrated why she is Broadway royalty at The Cabaret Saturday. Hot off the success of her just released autobiography, “Chita: A Memoir,” the legend also sold out the previous night of a two-day run of “Chita Rivera: The Rythm of ” at one of Indiana’s, if not the region’s, premiere night spots.
The tickets were so much in demand that even though I am often offered press comps to review shows at the venue, none were available for Rivera’s shows. Fortunately, however, arts patron Jenny Bizzoco, a dear friend, kindly invited me to the show as her guest. Of Puerto Rican descent, Bizzoco and I, with my Mexican roots, are both deeply proud of Rivera’s success as a Latina role model, so it was a distinct joy to share the experience with a fellow Latino.
Making the experience even more special were my own memories of past encounters with Rivera. The first was when I saw her in the Kander and Ebb musical, “Kiss of The Spider Woman” on Broadway in 1993. In 2014, I interviewed her for Examiner.com, after which I saw her perform that year in a benefit for Actors Theatre of Indiana at the Palladium. The following year, I met her at the Center for the Performing Arts in Carmel, following her induction into the Great American Songbook Foundation Hall of Fame, xo-founded by Michael Feinstein.
An ageless beauty, Rivera who was dressed in black, perfectly made up and coiffed, and reflecting urbane sophistication, displayed her Broadway pedigree in a performance that was a masterclass in showmanship. Though understandably frail and short on vocal strength at the age of ninety, Rivera nevertheless showed vitality as she demonstrated that she has not lost one iota of her captivating stage presence and dramatic impact. In other words, she can still “sell it” as she continues to thrill audiences as a much in-demand performer, in the vein of Marilyn Maye, who continues to be popular and relevant.
The two-time Tony Award singer’s program consisted of Rivera’s hits from Broadway shows that she appeared in. Peppered throughout her act, which she delivered in her easy-going style and with low key humor, were fascinating stories, anecdotes, and name-dropping famous luminaries, such as Kander and Ebb, Jerome Robbins, Liza Minelli, all of whom she worked alongside during a career that began in 1950.
Accompanied by her trio of seasoned musician that included music director Michael Croiter on drums and guitar, Jim Donica on bass, and music director Jason Loffredo at the piano, the show started off with a nod towards her longevity. Rivera opened with “Gotta a Lot of Livin’ to Do,” from “Bye Bye Birdie,” in which she originated the role of Rosie Alvarez in 1960. Highlights of Rivera’s act included a medley of songs from “West Side Story,” in which she originated the role of Anita in the classic musical that premiered in 1957 and during which she worked alongside creator Jerome Robbins, composer Leonard Bernstein, lyricist Stephen Sondheim and writer Arthur Laurents.
Other special moments included her wistful rendition of “Where Am I Going” from Cy Coleman’s 1966 musical “Sweet Charity,” starring her friend and mentor Gwen Verdon, and the appearance of special guest George Dvorsky who crooned Kander and Ebb’s “Sometimes a Day Goes By” from “Woman of the Year,” which was followed by a poignant duet with Rivera in “You, You, You”/“In The Forest Again,” from the 2015 Terrence McNally musical “The Visit” in which she starred.
A showstopper was “All That Jazz” from “Chicago,” in which Rivera starred as Velma Kelley in 1975. Showing off her skills as a hoofer, Rivera delighted the audience with snippets of Bob Fosse choreography during the famous vamp from “All That Jazz” and thrilled as she utilized a top hat and cane while performing “Nowadays.”
In a sweet tribute to her audiences, whom she says she regards as friends, Rivera closed with “Circle of Friends,” made famous by Kenny Rogers, which she lovingly dedicated to Larry Kert, her late friend and “West Side Story” co-star. As expected, there was a long and projected standing ovation for Rivera, a one-of-a-kind performer in what was truly a once-in-a-lifetime event.