Witnessing CHITA: A Legendary Celebration at the Palladium on Sept. 25 was akin to sitting in on a master class in performance. Chita Rivera’s personality sparkled like the rubies resplendent on bracelets on each of her wrists. She's a Wonder Woman — or, rather, Spider Woman — who's mastered uptown chic.
Rivera’s trio — Michael Croiter, Michael Patrick Walker and Jim Donica — attired in black suits, opened the program with an upbeat medley followed by a simple introduction by music director Croiter. "Ladies and Gentlemen, Chita Rivera," Croiter said, and from the wings appeared a larger-than-life personality shimmering in a little black dress like no other. Her crepe jacket accented a square-neck top that was pleated at the waist over a skirt of inwardly slanting four-layers of upside-down picket fence cuts. The ensemble just covered Rivera’s knees, accenting her perfectly shaped legs.
With black hair in a mop cut, red earrings matching her bright lipstick and shoes, she vamped across the stage. “This is an amazing room,” she enthused. “Thank you for having us. I come from an era called The Golden Age. When I asked an audience where I was then performing, 'What comes after the Golden Age?' a lady in the first row called back, 'Platinum, darling, platinum.'"
Gifting us with her platinum aura, Rivera launched into a series of reminiscences, each of which led into a song from her vast repertoire of stage appearances since the early 1950s. Leading off with her signature “A Boy Like That,” she swirled and swished into “America.”
A superb storyteller, she took us into the heart of what she does — keeping faith with the rhythm of a song; getting in touch with the spirit of the personality and the story. Rivera attends to even the smallest detail — a finger, a shrug, a glance, a shoulder thrust, a bit of costume adjustment. “My Wish For You” flowed across us — one audience member rose and moved rhythmically at her seat.
Calls come, she told us, and she considers the roles she is offered as gifts of generosity to share. She can change into a new character within seconds. Donning a boa, she observed, “I’ve played a hooker and it’s fun.” Then she took us into the breathless spin of Brel’s “Crazy Carousel,” pulling us into the cascading madness. Illusion intensified with Kander and Ebb magic — “The Visit” is a demanding vehicle — “I won’t, I can’t, remember you” she intoned in a measured cadence, icing your heart. “That was another time, another place.” Wow.
And then in a flip, she was into “Chicago.” “You can love the life you’ve got, you can live the life you love…” She’s got the best of it all along with that luscious vamp.
Happy birthday Chita; come back to share your 90th.