‘Chita: A Legendary Celebration’
The Alden in McLean
1234 Ingleside Avenue, McLean, Va.
On Tuesday, legendary Broadway star Chita Rivera brings her acclaimed one-woman show to McLean’s Alden Theatre. Titled “Chita: A Legendary Celebration,” the solo concert is billed as a party to celebrate her recent 80th birthday. But Rivera is having none of that: “I still can’t believe that number. It’s just weird. I try not to think about it.”
Rivera’s first love was ballet. But in a serendipitous showbiz twist, she landed in musical theater after accompanying a friend to an audition and getting the part herself. More musicals ensued. Rivera stepped out of the chorus into the spotlight as Anita in “West Side Story.” She went on to star in megahits “Bye, Bye, Birdie,” “The Rink,” “Chicago” and “Kiss of the Spider Woman.”
In March, the two-time Tony Award winner returns to Broadway to reprise her role as the once scorned, now rich and vengeful Claire Zachanassian in a revamped version of the John Kander/Fred Ebb/Terrence McNally musical “The Visit.” Broadway’s Roger Rees plays her love interest.
Recently Rivera shared some memories and plans via phone from her home outside New York City.
WASHINGTON BLADE: In “Chita: A Legendary Celebration” you revisit all your great parts. Are they like children? You can’t pick a favorite?
CHITA RIVERA: That’s exactly right. I’ve been a very, very lucky girl. I’ve worked with the best in the business, and played some wonderful roles. Who could choose between Anita and Aurora, or Velma and Rosie? This show lets me go back and do a little bit of everything. It’s designed for an intimate venue. There’s some movement, but I don’t have my beautiful boys dancing with me. But I am bringing a cute three-guy band.
BLADE: You’re originally from D.C.?
RIVERA: I grew up in Northwest on Flagler Place (near Howard University). My older brother was crazy about movies. On Saturdays he’d show movies in our basement and charge neighborhood kids five cents each. My younger brother would wear his new Frankenstein mask and I’d show what I learned at ballet that day. No one was interested in seeing me do a grand plié or standing in an arabesque. I never got more boos in my life. In Washington I studied ballet at the great Jones-Haywood School of Ballet, a school for minority students. At 14, I was asked to audition for George Balanchine’s School of American Ballet. In fact, I auditioned for Mr. Balanchine himself. Had I known who he was at the time, I would have wet my pants. I got the scholarship and left for New York.
BLADE: You’ve performed with pals like Gwen Verdon in “Chicago” and Liza Minnelli in “The Rink.” In the 2003 revival of “Nine” with Antonio Banderas you seemed to be having a lot of fun.
RIVERA: If I didn’t have fun with Antonio Banderas there’d have to be something very wrong with me. We had a blast. I talk about him in my show. I tell audiences that everything you might have dreamt or fantasized about Antonio is true. He’s a fabulous performer, beautiful to look at and loves women. He also never missed a show. He affected us all so positively.
BLADE: You were the first Hispanic woman to receive a Kennedy Center Honors. Are you an activist?
RIVERA: I’m a great supporter of the Puerto Rican community [Rivera’s father was Puerto Rican, and her mother was of Scottish/Italian descent], but I wouldn’t say I’m an activist. I have been very active with Broadway Cares/Equity Fights AIDS. I was there for the first AIDS benefit way back when. And I’m really proud to say we made quite a bit of money with my celebration show that I did a couple years ago.
BLADE: Your gay following is huge.
RIVERA: And without them what would I do? I’d like to say something wise here … It’s been a natural and loving part of my life. They’re my brothers and sisters. I’ve had many great friendships and professional relationships with gay people. Frankly, it’s the straight people who I have a little trouble with.
BLADE: Do those professional relationships include playwright Terrence McNally and songwriting team John Kander and the late Fred Ebb?
RIVERA: Yes, without Terrence and Freddie and John, I don’t know who or where’d I’d be today. And Terrence’s husband Tom Kirdahy too. Tom is unbelievable, a new breed of producer. Honest and passionate. He’s the one who got “The Visit” up again. We’ve got a lot to look forward to.
BLADE: Are you nostalgic? I’m guessing that’s not your style.
RIVERA: You’re right. Not long ago I took the show to Palm Beach and performed for a very chic audience. After I talked about the exciting years of Broadway’s Golden Age, I asked the audience what comes next. A woman’s voice — very low and sophisticated — replied, “Platinum, dah-ling, platinum.” Well, I’ll take that. That sounds good to me.