To find out what a "class act" is, don't bother thumbing through a dictionary. Just watch Chita Rivera command a stage for an evening. In her touring revue...
To find out what a “class act” is, don’t bother thumbing through a dictionary.
Just watch Chita Rivera command a stage for an evening.
In her touring revue “Chita Rivera: The Dancer’s Life” at the Paramount Theatre, this beloved two-time Tony Award winner proves in about 30 seconds flat that: A) She’s one of the most limber, glamorous 74-year olds on the planet; and B) she’s as gracious and generous as she is gifted.
Sleek and sassy in a black leotard-topped dress with a short, filmy skirt that shows off her elegant legs and glitter-dusted pumps, Rivera is one of those full-service entertainers that only Broadway (and bygone Broadway, at that) really knows what to do with.
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She originated the iconic roles of Anita in “West Side Story” and Velma in “Chicago,” but was often billed under a “bigger” star on Broadway, including her idol and friend Gwen Verdon.
“Chita Rivera: The Dancer’s Life,” written by Terrence McNally, new songs by Lynn Ahrens and Stephen Flaherty, through Sunday at the Paramount Theatre, 911 Pine St., Seattle; $22-$70 (206-292-ARTSor www.theparamount.com).
Now Rivera is at the top of the marquee, in this lively stage memoir that should be mandatory viewing for all Broadway nostalgia junkies and all aspiring young “gypsies” (show dancers).
With a reedy alto that packs quite a belt, Rivera sings tunes about her own life, written for this revue (by “Ragtime” composers Lynn Ahrens and Stephen Flaherty), and classic showtunes she made famous (by Leonard Bernstein, Kander & Ebb, etc.).
The woman also dances. A lot. Not with the velocity or range of motion she once had, mind you, but who cares? Rivera can do more with a toss of the head, a twirl of her wrists and a feisty little back-kick than many a hoofer a third her age.
Plus she’s a cut-up (who knew?), a fine mimic who laughs mainly at her own foibles. Like when she (briefly) got all haughty with her “Mr. Wonderful” co-star Sammy Davis Jr., because he came up through nightclubs instead of “the theatah.” (She was humbled after their first rehearsal together.)
Rivera also does a lot of homage-paying — mainly via excerpts from her greatest shows — to the genius choreographers (Bob Fosse, Jerome Robbins, etc.) and co-stars (Dick Van Dyke, Verdon) who boosted her from dance-happy kid in a loud, loving Puerto Rican clan to unstoppable Broadway titan. (She recently played opposite Antonio Banderas in a Broadway revival of “Nine.”)
Scripted by playwright Terrence McNally, and staged by choreographer-director Graciela Daniele, “Chita Rivera: The Dancer’s Life” tends to dance around her past chronologically, which can make it a choppy affair.
And if the new songs express Rivera’s life-affirming credo (“We’re only here awhile/Might as well give it some style”), they are otherwise forgettable.
It’s also frustrating to see show-stopper numbers cut down to snippets.
Still, you do get to watch Rivera, with her ensemble of thoroughbred Broadway dancers, stomp and “ai-yi-yi” through “America” from “West Side Story.” And when she reclaims the great anthem “All That Jazz” from “Chicago,” it’s magic time.
Daniele’s choreography also brings out Rivera’s torchy side with some slinky tango duets. And the tinted washes of light in Loy Arcenas’ design keep the dynamics changing, as do the jazzy orchestrations by Danny Troob.
As for gossipy revelations, Rivera scatters a few salty tidbits — about her affair with Sammy D., about how Peter Gennaro never got proper credit from Robbins for choreographing key numbers in “West Side Story.”
Hey, we love it when Chita Rivera dances, we love it when she dishes. Let’s hope that some discount tickets for aspiring young dancers of modest means are available for this show. This is a “master class” they’d be unlikely to forget.
Misha Berson: email@example.com