If there is one Broadway personality who has established herself as the ultimate “triple threat” – singer, dancer, actress, the desired all-round attributes for any hit musical – it is Chita Rivera. The personification of a Latino spitfire in the original West Side Story; the vamping Velma of Chicago; Liza Minnelli’s strident Ma in The Rink, approaching if not exceeding Gypsy’s Rose; and the flamboyant figment of a jail inmate’s imagination in Kiss Of The Spider Woman+ Rivera has had her share of plum parts, garnering two Tony Awards.
At an amazingly young-looking 72 she has decided to share her professional and to a some degree personal life in a show that at times becomes close to an expanded cabaret act, a dance down memory lane serendipitously dipping into the musicals that made her famous. With a book by Terence McNally (disappointingly skimpy, with some lame jokes) original songs – two unremarkable ones in fact – by Lynn Ahrens and Stephen Flaherty and choreography and direction by Graciela Daniele, the evening is carried by the sheer force of Rivera’s personality.
There are moments of theatrical effectiveness, such as the employment of shadow and silhouette for many of the dance routines : nine versatile dancers picked for their experience as Broadway gypsies if not for their youth, providing an animated frieze behind Rivera as she belts out yet another song. These days her smoky voice is her strongest feature, though Daniele has expertly tailored the choreography to show off her remaining technique. Rivera can slink through a tango with Richard Amaro, with her timing plus his skilled partnering never letting her down. And she can still fire off a mean high kick or silky shimmy.
The show touches on her days as a ballet student, segues into first auditions and debuts, has a brief encounter with the men in her life and vividly describes choreographers she has worked with, such as Jack Cole, Jerome Robbins and Bob Fosse. Even though we rarely get more than a scrap of the routines that established her career, Rivera, a great trouper, works untiringly. But it is not the dancer’s life, any more than this is the definitive Broadway musical.
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