Chita! The liveliest living legend of all

Feb 24

Chita Rivera 1
The liveliest living legend you’re ever likely to see: Ms. Chita Rivera, still going strong at 81, performed her cabaret act Chita: A Legendary Celebration as part of Bay Area Cabaret’s 10th anniversary season in the Venetian Room at the Fairmont. Photo by Monica Simoes. Photo below by Laurie Marie Duncan

In her opening number, Chita Rivera sings, “You’re alive, so come on and show it. There’s such a lot of livin’ to do.” She finishes the song, and the 81-year-old legend adds, “I mean it.” And she’s not kidding. After a triumphant turn in the Fairmont’s Venetian Room in 2010, Rivera returned to the Bay Area Cabaret as part of the company’s 10th anniversary season. Rivera’s performance four years ago was spectacular (read my review here). This time out, she was beyond spectacular. She exuded energy and charm and pizzazz for 90 minutes and dazzled, seemingly without even trying to. It’s just who she is.

In Chita: A Legendary Celebration (somewhat related to the show she did in New York last year with chorus boys and superstar guests), she sings many of the same songs she sang four years ago and told versions of the same stories. While that might work against some performers, Rivera brings exuberance to every full-throated note she sings or word she utters.

Chita Rivera 2

She was in fine voice on Sunday and was especially marvelous on Brel’s “Carousel,” a sometimes annoying musical nervous breakdown that Rivera turned into a showstopper, and on her trio of tunes from Kiss of the Spider Woman.. No one will ever sing songs from Chicago like Rivera. During “Nowadays,” she even did a Gwen Verdon impression that was so uncanny it drew gasps from the adoring audience.

As she sang, told stories and even did a little dancing (she shook her hip at one point and exclaimed, “It still works!”), Rivera was ageless. A hoofer, a workhouse, a true Broadway superstar doing what she does best: making her audience members even happier than they expected to be.

Here are Chita and Gwen from the Mike Douglas Show during the original run of Chicago.

[bonus interview]
I had the great pleasure of chatting with Chita Rivera for a story in the San Francisco Chronicle. Read about Ms. Rivera’s TV viewing habits and her desire to play a zombie on The Walking Dead. Click here to read the story.

Also, there was a nugget of info that didn’t make it into the story but did make it into the editor’s note that also had to do with TV:

When you picture Chita Rivera, you think Broadway. You think “West Side Story.”

But when Chad Jones interviewed Rivera for this week’s cover story, they had a great conversation about, of all things, television.

“When she’s not working, Rivera likes to watch TV,” Jones says. “She has complete disdain for reality shows, especially ‘Dance Moms’ about kids in dance class.” Among her favorites? There’s “Walking Dead,” “Breaking Bad” and pretty much anything on PBS, Jones says. But “she will admit that if she has time in the morning, she likes ‘The Price Is Right’ and ‘Let’s Make a Deal,’ both of which tap into the positive attitude she’s managed to hold onto all these years,” Jones says.

“I like people jumping up and down and winning things and not being afraid to look foolish,” Rivera says. “There’s a life lesson in there.”

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