Nationality: United States
Executive summary: Anita in West Side Story on Broadway
Father: Pedro Julio Figuerva del Rivero (musician, Puerto Rican, d. 1940)
Mother: Katherine (Scottish)
Husband: Anthony Mordente (“Tony”, television director, b. 3-Dec-1940, m. 1962, div. 1963)
Daughter: Lisa Mordente
High School: Taft High School, Bronx, NY (1951)
University: School of American Ballet, New York City
The New Dick Van Dyke Show Dennis Whitehead (1973-74)
Chita Rivera (born January 23, 1933) is an American actress, dancer, and singer best known for her roles in musical theater. She is the first Hispanic woman to receive a Kennedy Center Honors award (December 2002). She was awarded the Presidential Medal of Freedom in 2009.
Rivera was born Dolores Conchita Figueroa del Rivero in Washington, D.C., the daughter of Katherine, a government clerk, and Pedro Julio Figueroa del Rivero, a clarinetist and saxophonist for the United States Navy Band. Her father was Puerto Rican and her mother was of Scottish and Italian descent. Rivera was seven years old when her mother was widowed and went to work for The Pentagon.
In 1944, Rivera’s mother enrolled her in the Jones-Haywood School of Ballet (now the Jones Haywood School of Dance). Later, when she was 15, a teacher from George Balanchine‘s School of American Ballet visited their studio and Rivera was one of two students picked to audition in New York City; she was accompanied to the audition by Doris Jones, one of the people who ran the Jones-Haywood School. Rivera’s audition was successful and she was accepted into the school and given a scholarship.
n 1952, Rivera accompanied a friend to the audition for a Broadway production of Call Me Madam and ended up winning the role herself. She followed this by landing roles in other Broadway productions such as Guys and Dolls and Can-Can. In 1957, she was cast in the role which was destined to make her a Broadway star, the firebrand Anita in West Side Story. (The role would bring fame and an Oscar to another Puerto Rican, Rita Moreno, in the 1961 film version). Rivera starred in a national tour of Can-Can and played the role of Nicky in the film adaptation of Sweet Charity with Shirley MacLaine.
Chita Rivera & Gewn Verdon perform “All That Jazz” and “Nowadays” at the Tony Awards
Interview segment on “Nightline”
On December 1, 1957, Rivera married dancer Tony Mordente. Her performance was so important for the success of the show that the London production of West Side Story was postponed until she gave birth to the couple’s daughter Lisa. In 1963, Rivera was cast opposite Alfred Drake in Zenda. The Broadway-bound musical closed on the road. In 1975 she appeared as Velma Kelly in the original cast of the musical Chicago.
In 1986, Rivera was in a severe accident when her car collided with a taxi on West 86th Street in Manhattan. Injuries sustained included the breaking of her left leg in twelve places, requiring eighteen screws and two braces to mend. After rehabilitation, Rivera continued to perform on stage. Miraculously revitalized, in 1988, she endeavored in a restaurant venture in partnership with the novelist, Daniel Simone. The famous eatery, located on 42nd Street between 9th and Tenth Avenue, was named after her, ‘Chita’s’. It soon became a significant attraction for the after-theater crowds.
Rivera is regarded by many theatre aficionados as a “living legend” and in an In Theatre magazine interview, George Horsfall suggested, “You must be tired of the term ‘legend’, but let’s get it out of the way. You have long been considered a Broadway legend.” Rivera replied “Oh, God!” and laughed.
She appeared in a filmed for the television version of the musical Pippin in 1981, as “Fastrada”. In 1993, she received a Tony Award for Best Leading Actress in a Musical for her portrayal of Aurora in the Tony-award winning musical Kiss of the Spider Woman written by Kander and Ebb.
Here’s a clip of Chita in Cole Porter’s, “Anything Goes”
Rivera starred in the Goodman Theatre production of the Kander and Ebb musical The Visit as “Claire Zachanassian” in 2001. In 2008 she appeared in a revised production of the musical at the Signature Theatre in Arlington, Virginia, co-starring George Hearn.
In 2003, Rivera returned to Broadway in the 2003 revival of Nine as Liliane La Fleur, and received her eighth career Tony Award nomination (Best Featured Actress in a Musical) and fourth Drama Desk Award nomination (Outstanding Featured Actress in a Musical). Chita appeared with Antonio Banderas. She later appeared on the revival’s cast album.
On television, Rivera was a guest on the Judy Garland show. She guest-starred along with Michele Lee in a February 2005 episode of Will & Grace, and in December of that year, Chita Rivera: The Dancer’s Life, a retrospective of her career, opened on Broadway. She received yet another Tony nomination for her self-portrayal. Though she was expected to reprise her role in a Signature Theatre staging of The Visit in Autumn 2007, that was later postponed to the following season. Instead, she performed at New York’s Feinsten’s At The Regency supper club in New York for two weeks. Signature Theatre’s production of The Visit opened to rapturous reviews on May 13, 2008 and closed June 22, 2008.
In November 2009, Rivera released a new album titled, “And Now I Swing” to rave reviews.
I met Chita Rivera in 1981 while performing nightly at Ted Hook’s, Backstage in New York City. Chita was a close friend of Ted’s and a regular guest at the club. Over the course of two years I spent a considerable amount of time with Chita, her sister Lola, (who was one of the managers of Backstage) and Chita’s daughter, Lisa Mordente. I even had the opportunity to meet Chita’s lovely mother. At the time, Liza Minelli was also a regular guest at the club and often she and Chita would sit together. With such “larger than life” personalities you could imagine what it was like for me, having recently moved from more provincial, Long Island NY to Manhattan. It was exciting, irresistible, and in a way unbelievable! I’ll never forget one evening as everyone was leaving the club, Ted Hook, and a few of us who had stayed until closing, walked outside with Chita to wait with her as her friend brought the car around. Moments later, he drove up in a black Renegade Jeep with the top off. After Chita said goodbye to us, she grabbed hold of the roll bar at the top of the car and did a flip,literally, – head-over-heals- landing upright in the front passenger seat. I was amazed. It has stuck with me all these years. More recently, I went to see Chita a few months ago when she was in San Francisco performing at the “Razz Room.” 29 years after I first met her, and well into her 70’s now, she is as beautiful, energetic and talented as she was back in 1981.
Source: wikipedia, nndb.com, youtube
Alternate Bio Information
Universally regarded as an American national treasure, Chita Rivera is Broadway’s most accomplished and versatile dancer/actress/singer. A recipient of the prestigious Kennedy Center honor, Chita has won two Tony Awards as Best Leading Actress in a Musical and has received six additional Tony Award nominations. She most recently appeared on Broadway in Chita Rivera: the Dancer’s Life, the story of her own life in the theater, written by Terrence McNally and directed by Graciela Daniele. She received a Tony nomination for this performance. Her most recent Broadway appearance previous to this was in the Tony Award winning revival of Nine, starring Antonio Banderas.
Born Dolores Conchita Figueroa del Rivero in Washington, D.C., on January 23, 1933, Chita’s parents were from Puerto Rico. Her father, Pedro Julio Figueroa, played clarinet and saxophone for the Navy Band; after his death when Chita was 7, her mother, Katherine Anderson del Rivero, went to work at the Pentagon. (Chita’s mother died in 1983).
Young Conchita was a tomboy. To tone down her rambunctiousness, when she was 11, her mother enrolled her in the Jones-Hayward School of Ballet, a school run by an impressive pair of black women, Doris Jones and Claire Haywood. When Conchita was 15, a teacher from George Balanchine’s School of American Ballet visited their studio. She was one of two students picked to audition in New York.
Chita in 1982 performing “America” from West Side Story, and “All That Jazz” from Chicago.
At the audition, Doris Jones calmed her student with a piece of advice. “Conchita, stay in your lane.” Meaning, “Don’t worry about the long bodies and blond ponytails lining up next to you for the auditions; be who you are!” Chita Rivera never forgot it. Chita paid tribute to Miss Jones in her autobiographical show, Chita Rivera: the Dancer’s Life.
Chita was admitted to the prestigious school on the basis of her audition and was given a scholarship. Her teachers included some of the top American dancers of the century: Edward Villella, Allegra Kent, and Maria Tallchief among them. Soon, however, the ballet world lost and Broadway gained a future star when the 17-year-old aspiring ballerina accompanied a friend to the auditions for the national tour of Call Me Madam starring Elaine Stritch. Conchita intended only to support her friend, but she ended up landing the part herself. Other roles quickly followed in such shows as Guys and Dolls, Can-Can, Seventh Heaven, and Mr. Wonderful with Sammy Davis Jr.
Then in 1957, Broadway history was made when Chita’s electric performance as Anita in the Broadway premiere of West Side Story brought her stardom. Chita’s talent enabled genius, Jerome Robbins, to realize his groundbreaking choreographic vision for the production. She married Tony Mordente, a dancer from the West Side Story cast, on December 1 of that year. (The couple divorced in 1966).
Chita’s performance as Anita was so central to the success of West Side Story that the London production was postoned until after she had given birth to her daughter, Lisa Mordente.
The starring role in Bye Bye Birdie followed West Side Story, and Chita returned to the West End in 1960 to reprise her performance in that role as well. Around the nation or on tour, Chita subsequently starred in Born Yesterday, The Rose Tattoo, Call Me Madam, Threepenny Opera, Sweet Charity, Kiss Me Kate, and Zorba. A national tour of Can-Can with the Radio City Music Hall Rockettes took her to Japan as well. Chita also played Nicky in the film version of Sweet Charity with Shirley MacLaine. In a wry tribute to Nicky, Chita’s character for her most recent screen appearance, a cameo in the film version of Chicago, is also named “Nicky.”