Sunday, February 25, 2024

Legendary Broadway Star Chita Rivera, Known for Groundbreaking Roles, Dies at 91

HomeEntertainmentLegendary Broadway Star Chita Rivera, Known for Groundbreaking Roles, Dies at 91

Chita Rivera, the legendary Broadway performer who originated iconic roles in musicals like West Side Story, Chicago, and Kiss of the Spider Woman, has passed away at the age of 91 according to her daughter Lisa Mordente. Over a career spanning six decades, Rivera was renowned for her triple threat talents in singing, dancing, and acting, winning three Tony Awards and becoming one of Broadway’s most enduring stars.

Though Rivera seemed destined for Broadway greatness, she actually began as a ballet dancer. Born Dolores Conchita Figueroa del Rivero in Washington, D.C. in 1933, her mother enrolled her in ballet classes to channel her abundant energy. Rivera received a full scholarship to the prestigious School of American Ballet in New York City, appearing well on her way to a career in dance.

However, this changed when Rivera attended an audition with a friend for the Broadway musical Call Me Madam and won a part in the touring company. This launched her pivot to musical theater, leading to her big breakout in 1957 as Anita in West Side Story.

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As Anita, Rivera showcased her triple threat abilities like never before. She revealed powerful dancing skills in the number “America,” challenging choreography from Jerome Robbins that enthralled audiences. Her acting brought heart and complexity to the role. And her singing displayed impressive range and emotion, especially on the song “A Boy Like That” under the tutelage of composer Leonard Bernstein himself.

According to Laurence Maslon, co-producer of the PBS series Broadway: The American Musical, “She was spontaneous and compelling and talented as hell for decades and decades on Broadway. Once you saw her, you never forgot her.”

Rivera’s rare versatility as a performer made her invaluable to directors like Robbins and Bob Fosse. She could sing, act, and dance at the highest levels, allowing her to take on a wide variety of roles. After originating Anita, she went on to create other legendary parts like Rose in Bye Bye Birdie, Velma in Chicago, and Aurora in Kiss of the Spider Woman.

Though Rivera starred in her share of flops, she also headlined major hits across six decades, from 1960 to 2013. This included turns as Nickie in Sweet Charity, Cassie in A Chorus Line, and Liliane in Nine. She won Tonys for her work in Bye Bye Birdie, The Rink, and a lifetime achievement award.

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Rivera’s stage career nearly came to an end in 1986 when she suffered severe injuries in a taxi accident, including a shattered leg. Doctors claimed she would never dance again, but incredibly, Rivera defied the odds through sheer will and determination.

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While she adjusted her dance style to accommodate her limitations, she still continued performing. As Rivera stated in 2005, “I don’t do flying splits anymore. I don’t do back flips and all the stuff that I used to do. You want to know something? I don’t want to.”

Rivera rarely acted on screen, dedicating herself fully to Broadway. This commitment to the stage led to her status as a true legend. Over her lifetime, she received a Kennedy Center Honor, a Presidential Medal of Freedom, and numerous other accolades befitting her iconic career.

According to Maslon, “That’s why they’re called Broadway legends. Hopefully you get to see them live because you’ll never get to see them in another form in quite the same way.” For theatergoers lucky enough to witness Rivera’s talents in person, her performances will never be forgotten.

Mezhar Alee
Mezhar Alee
Mezhar Alee is a prolific author who provides commentary and analysis on business, finance, politics, sports, and current events on his website Opportuneist. With over a decade of experience in journalism and blogging, Mezhar aims to deliver well-researched insights and thought-provoking perspectives on important local and global issues in society.

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