Celebrating Chita Rivera

 

"I've been a very lucky woman to do so many amazing things." Chita Rivera's delight in the breadth and depth of her 60-plus year — and counting — career surges across the telephone. Her voice radiates as she pays homage to the pantheon of creators who have been her friends — John Kander and Fred Ebb, Leonard Bernstein, Charles Strouse, Jerry Herman, Stephen Sondheim.

Describing her Sept. 25 show at the Palladium, Chita: A Legendary Celebration, as "an evening of sharing memories," she adds, "It's a fascinating show and I'm having fun with it. You do your best and hopefully people enjoy what you do."

Expect to hear recreations from West Side Story, Sweet Charity, Chicago, Kiss of the Spider Woman, Bye, Bye, Birdie, The Rink, among other numbers from her extensive repertoire. It's being billed as a birthday celebration: "A girl only turns 80 once in her life, thank God, and I want everyone there as proof," she quips. And though she's already into her 81st year — and she was born in January — who's to say such a successful and vibrant performer can't celebrate becoming an octogenarian for as long as she likes?

From her 1957 breakthrough on Broadway as the achingly feisty Anita in West Side Story to her hauntingly conniving Claire in 2014's The Visit at the Williamstown Theatre Festival, Rivera has demonstrated an unerring ability to mold dimensional characters and animate their inner force. She says her career has been about "always growing, always seeking ways to reach out and connect."

Rivera's father, who was a clarinetist and saxophonist for the United States Navy Band, died when Rivera was seven. In 1948 a Balanchine dancer spotted Rivera at the then Jones-Haywood School of Ballet and she was chosen, along with another student, to audition for a scholarship at Balanchine's School of American Ballet. Steadfastly pursuing ballet, Rivera nevertheless accompanied a friend to an audition for the 1951 touring company of Call Me Madam. In one of those odd twists of fate, Rivera was cast as a principal dancer in the show. Many a Broadway critic has alluded to ballet's loss being Broadway's gain.

Her stellar three-year run as Anita in West Side Story came after six years of earning her way through roles in Guys and Dolls, Can-Can, Seventh Heaven, The Shoestring Revue, Mr. Wonderful and Shinbone Alley (in standby for Eartha Kitt). Rivera's resume includes roles in ten films, a range of television appearances, concerts worldwide and recordings, along with a prestigious list of thirty Broadway and regional theatre appearances.

The winner of two Tony Awards, among nine nominations, and multiple Drama Desk, Outer Critics Circle and Drama League awards, Rivera is the first woman of Hispanic heritage and the first Latino American to receive a Kennedy Center Honors award. Along with a range of citations for her lifetime of humanitarian work, Rivera was awarded the Presidential Medal of Freedom in 2009.

Don Farrell, co-founder/ artistic director of Actors Theatre of Indiana, says presenting Chita Rivera at The Palladium is part of ATI's mission "to bring Broadway legends to the central Indiana community."

In 2005 New York City-based professional performers Farrell, Cynthia Collins and Judy Fitzgerald founded Actors Theatre of Indiana, with the intention of bringing their programs to Central Indiana communities. "We try to present something for everybody," says Farrell.

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