Chita Rivera – A Remembrance

Theater Memorial – February 2, 2024


By Chris Curcio
Theater Critic

As has been widely reported, the great theater icon and Broadway star Chita Rivera passed away at age 91 on January 30.  She performed for over 60 years and never gave up.  A terrible 1986 auto accident sidetracked her career but hard work in physical therapy brought her back.  She was nominated for ten Tony Awards for excellence in the theater of which she won two in 1984 for “The Rink” and in 1993’s “Kiss of the Spider Woman” plus a Lifetime Achievement Tony Award in 2018.  She also received the Presidential Medal of Freedom in 2009 from President Barrack Obama.  I was lucky to see both of her Tony winning performances but my history with Rivera goes back to the ‘60s.

As a musical theater loving teenager, I had a huge collection of original Broadway cast show recordings including all of Rivera’s.  Back in those days, Rivera didn’t tour much as she confined her performances to Broadway.  Her first professional appearance was in a touring “Call Me Madam” production that starred the late Elaine Stritch.  Once she hit Broadway as Anita in 1957’s “West Side Story” she played in many Broadway musicals including “Bye, Bye Birdie,” “Bajour,” “Chicago, “Bring Back Birdie,” “Merlin,” “The Rink,” “Jerry’s Girls,” “Kiss of the Spider Woman,” “Nine,” “The Mystery of Edwin Drood,” and “The Visit.”  Rivera’s roles in those shows will be long remembered by theatergoers.  I saw four of her many Broadway triumphs including the two Tony Award performances as Best Performer in a Musical.

The one exception to her many Broadway performances was the 1963 San Francisco/Los Angeles Civic Light Opera world premiere production of the musical “Zenda” based on the novel “The Prisoner of Zenda.”  “Zenda” also starred Alfred Drake and Anne Rogers both then big names in the musical theater like Rivera.

By the time the show played San Francisco’s Curran Theatre, I had season tickets and saw Rivera for the first time.  That show was scheduled for Broadway but sputtered like many Civic Light Opera productions and closed on the West Coast never to play Broadway.

At that young age, I was not a decerning theatergoer but I wasn’t impressed with “Zenda” except for Rivera’s stellar performance.  I knew I was seeing a great musical theater performer.  That was the first of her many performances in San Francisco and on Broadway that I was privileged to see.  I watched her walk over Liza Minnelli in the terrible “The Rink” by her sheer presence and stature of the great and consummate musical theater artist she was.

I’m a lucky theatergoing lover to have experienced multiple stellar performances by the fabulous Chita Rivera.  She is and always will be a legend to me!



One Response to “Chita Rivera – A Remembrance”

  1. Harriet Wilburne said:

    Feb 04, 24 at 01:04

    Wonderful review because it brought in the critic’s personal experience with Chita Rivera, over many years of her career. It’s such a pleasure to hear about this immense talent from a seasoned critic, who clearly regards her with reverence.