In these days of manufactured celebrity, when reality TV participants can become famous, it is comforting to know that bona fide stars with rare talent are still amongst us. One of those is Chita Rivera. A multiple Tony winner, the actor/singer/dancer will recreate moments from her storied Broadway career in “Chita: A Legendary Celebration” at the Palladium at the Center for the Performing Arts on Thursday, Sept. 25, at 8 p.m. The benefit concert is a presentation of Actors Theatre of Indiana, located in the Center’s Studio Theater.
“West Side Story,” “Sweet Charity,” “Chicago” and “Kiss of the Spider Woman” are just a few of the long-running hit musicals in which Rivera created the roles she performed in and will recreate during her show. She will also pay tribute to renowned composers she has worked with including Leonard Bernstein, Charles Strouse, Jerry Herman, Stephen Sondheim and Kander & Ebb. Accompanying her will be her music director Michael Croiter on drums and guitar, Jim Donica on bass and pianist Michael Patrick Walker.
In order to secure more information about her Palladium concert, her career and find out more about her recent activities, yeahstub.com spoke recently with Rivera by phone from her home in upstate New York.
What are your thoughts about appearing in this benefit for Actors Theatre of Indiana?
We need to keep theater alive. I constantly tell people that there is so much more there than just Broadway and that there is amazing theater going on in the rest of the country.
Tell me about your concert.
Being a gal from the Golden Age, I have been lucky and blessed enough to have done so many brilliant shows with great books, choreographers, composers and scores. I tell stories about experiences I have had and do numbers that hopefully bring back good memories for people.
Do you ever tire of singing your signature songs?
I learned a lesson many, many years ago from Fred Ebb. He, John Kander and Ron Field said, “Let’s do a club act.” I was scared to death but they put together this amazing club act for me and Freddy said to me, “We need to do ‘America,’ from ‘West Side Story’ here,” and I said, “No, no, I don’t want to do anything that I have done because it will seem like an ego trip,” and Freddy said, “You’re crazy. You have to.” He taught me that I must bring back the old material because fans expect it and want to hear it. I have heard stories of how people fell in love during one of my shows and certain songs prompt certain memories they have. So I figure if I enjoy it and I express it, hopefully the audiences will too. Whatever makes the audience respond and feel good memories is what I should do.
Do the songs from your old shows also revive your own memories?
Every time I start to sing something say, for instance, from “Bye Bye Birdie,” I am totally brought back to the days with Dick Van Dyke and Kay Medford. Those were wonderful, wonderful days.
Do you share stories during your concert?
Yes, I share stories, like when I did “Bring Back Birdie” with Donald O’Connor and how I had such a great time and my first rehearsal with him. He sang to me and I stopped to think “Oh, my God…you sound just like Donald O’Connor” (laughs). I couldn’t believe that this was guy I watched when I was a kid standing next to me. Then there was the time I was with Leonard Bernstein for the first time in his apartment sitting right next to him on the piano. Those are the kinds of stories I tell.
Do you feel satisfaction that you originated so many roles in the shows you did?
It’s awfully nice of you to recognize that. I don’t spend my time thinking about what I have done. Someone once asked if I would rather have played Anita in the movie of “West Side” (it went to Rita Moreno who played the role and won an Oscar) than originate the role on Broadway as I did. No way would I have wanted to do the movie of any shows that I did. I would rather be in the rehearsal room with the most creative and divine people to go through those moments together. John Kander and I just finished working together on “The Visit” at the Williamstown Theater Festival. He said his greatest moments and his happiest were in rehearsal. To know that you breathe the first breath of life into a character—there is no comparison. I would much rather make much less money and live in the world of the rehearsal hall. It’s just a gift from God, really.
How was your experience with “The Visit?”
It is what American theater is all about. I don’t think we have very much of that right now. We need to bring it back. It’s an amazing, dark, passionate story. People would say “putting music to ‘West Side Story’ or ‘The Kiss of the Spider Woman,’—you can’t do that.” Yes you can. You can make that drama more palatable by putting a magnificent score to it and that’s what Freddy [Ebb] and John [Kander] have done with “The Visit.”
You are no stranger to taking risks and doing material no one else would consider, right?
Oh, yes. During the concert I say, “What fools these mortal beings are” after I do music from “Jacques Brel [Is Alive and Well and Living in Paris].” The reason why I love it is because it’s so dark and it seems that ever since “Jacques Brel” I have been doing only dark musicals. I think I like it that way. (laughs).
What’s in the wings for you?
I am doing my concert in several places until we get the word about whether “The Visit” will go to Broadway. I am also doing Birdland [Jazz Club] in three weeks.
How do you maintain your energy?
You know what, I love what I do. I have been lucky enough to have great stuff to do. If you’ve got a life, it is very short. You better live it.
What can audiences expect when they see your concert?
They can expect a person that will be enjoying what she does and wanting to share her life and her experiences with you in an evening of good memories and entertainment.
For tickets and information about “Chita: A Legendary Celebration” at the Palladium, call (317) 843-3800 or visit thecenterfortheperformingarts.org.
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