Chita Rivera: The Dancer's Life

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Chita Rivera: The Dancer's Life
Theatrical poster
Music Stephen Flaherty and others
Lyrics Lynn Ahrens and others
Book Terrence McNally
Productions 2005 Broadway
2006 US Tour

Chita Rivera: The Dancer's Life is a musical revue based on the life of Chita Rivera, with a book by Terrence McNally and new songs by Stephen Flaherty and Lynn Ahrens as well as songs from various other composers. It earned Rivera her ninth Tony Award nomination (for Best Actress in a Musical).


Chita Rivera: The Dancer's Life, was first conceived by Chita Rivera in 2003, while she was appearing in the musical Nine on Broadway. As Rivera's next project, the Public Theater production of The Visit had been indefinitely canceled, Rivera approached that show's book writer, Terrence McNally with the idea of a musical based on her life. Rivera's conception which was that the musical would open with her dancing to her father's music, and progress through the varied stages of her career. McNally and Rivera officially announced in November 2003 that they were working on the show, and that a workshop production would be held in summer of 2004 at the Tampa Bay Performing Arts Center in Florida. Marty Bell and Graciela Daniele were lined up as producer and director, respectively, of the workshop.[1]

In 2005, Rivera debuted in And Now I Sing, a one-woman cabaret act at Feinstein's at the Regency in New York City that ran from February 22 through March 12.[2][3] Though the one-woman show and its venue were intimate, the reviews were strong. Stephen Holden, in his review for The New York Times, wrote that "her program finds a comfortable mix of sass and sentiment" and noted that in several songs ("Where Am I Going?" from Sweet Charity for example), she "captures exactly the right tone of dazed determination."[3] The act also marked the debut of some of the anecdotes and stage patter that would be more fully fleshed out by McNally for the Broadway revue. Later that year, The Denver Center for the Performing Arts announced that a one-woman show, "Chita Rivera Dances Through Life" would debut at that theater. Featuring a book by McNally and direction and choreography by Daniele. However, funding didn't materialize, and the booking was canceled.

It was announced in August 2005 that the revue would have a pre-Broadway production at the Old Globe Theatre in San Diego.[4] The revue, now retiled Chita Rivera: The Dancer's Life opened at the Old Globe Theatre in San Diego on September 10, 2005 and played until October 23.[5] An engagement on Broadway at the Gerald Schoenfeld Theatre was confirmed for November 2005 in previews.[5] Matthew White and Frank Webb were subsequently asked to design Rivera's dressing room.[6] The Broadway production of Chita Rivera: The Dancer's Life began its limited run with a series of previews in November, and officially opened on December 11, 2005 to mixed reviews. The song selection and other aspects of the production were tweaked throughout the run: For example, an opening prologue featuring the dancers warming up before the show was dropped shortly after the show opened, and the number "America" was only added to the show in January 2006. More revisions were required during Rivera's special "birthday week" performances on January 24–26, during which her former co-star Dick Van Dyke joined her on stage.[7] The show closed on February 19, 2006 after 72 performances. Rivera immediately embarked on a national tour, during which many numbers were dropped, and the character of "Young Chita" was eliminated.


The show is divided into thematic sections during which Chita Rivera shares anecdotes from her life. Members of the ensemble play the part of various figures in her life.

Act I

Chita remembers her father, a professional saxophonist who died when she was seven years old, playing "Perfidia" for her. "Little Chita" (played by a child actress) picks up the rhythm in this music in a dance which moves from the scene to the front of a large screen. Suddenly, the shadow of Chita Rivera herself appears behind her. The screen rises, revealing Rivera, who continues the dance. (This sequence was altered for the touring version, which eliminated the "Young Chita" role.)

After this introduction, Rivera is at the White House for the 2002 Kennedy Center Honors, where she is to be the first Latina-American to receive the Honor. She begins to reminisce ("The Secret O' Life") and decides that "the secret of life is enjoying the passage of time."

The next scene shows life at the Del Rivero family table in Washington, D.C., when Chita was a young child. Various family members react to Chita's "Dancing on the Kitchen Table," and, when the table breaks, her parents decide to send Chita to dance class. This sequence transitions into one showing Rivera at the barre in dance class, where she took ballet lessons three times a week under the tutelage of her mentor, Doris Jones. Chita shares the story of how Jones took her to New York City to audition for George Balanchine when she was 17. After noticing Chita's foot bleeding through her toe-shoe, Balanchine stopped to bandage her injury personally. After winning a scholarship to the School of American Ballet, Chita accompanied a friend to an audition for a tour of Call Me Madam, starring Elaine Stritch. Chita was hired, ending her career in classical ballet.

As a young "gypsy," Chita talks about her hope for a "crossover" - a featured bit of dancing or business to do while the scenery changes (“Something to Dance About”). Though she did not get one, she did get lessons in stage presence from Stritch, who told her to "make them hear you!" Still, she yearned for fame ("I'm Available").

In her first Broadway show, Seventh Heaven, she plays a prostitute ("Camille, Colette, Fifi"). Later, she appears in The Shoestring Review with Bea Arthur. Singing "Garbage", Chita reminisces about working with Arthur, who originally sang the number while Chita jumped in and out of a garbage bag- she jokes that the audience will have to "[leave] the jumping to our imaginations." The number segues into the title song of Can-Can, where Chita is now a member of the chorus. Later, she joins the cast of Mr. Wonderful ("Mr. Wonderful"), where she dates the young Sammy Davis, Jr.

Chita recreates the audition that earned her the role of "Anita" in West Side Story, her best-known role. After finding her audition piece, "My Man's Gone Now," laughable, Leonard Bernstein gives her "A Boy Like That" to sing. After several false starts, she lands the number and the role. Modern-day Chita then performs "America". Learning from Jerome Robbins ("Jerry gave me detail, style, and substance") and Peter Gennaro (the Sharks' own choreographer), Chita shows us "The Dance at the Gym" and performs "Somewhere" with the ensemble.

Chita then performs a sequence devoted to her various co-stars over the years, who all appear in silhouette. In Bye Bye Birdie there was Dick Van Dyke (for four performances, Van Dyke joined Rivera on stage) ("Put On A Happy Face" and "Rosie"). In The Rink there was Liza Minnelli ("Don't Ah Ma Me"). Antonio Banderas was her co-star in Nine The Musical, and Donald O'Connor co-starred in Bring Back Birdie. This leads to Chita's tribute to Gwen Verdon - "as close as [she] will ever come to the magic of Charlie Chaplin" ("Hey Big Spender"). In the final section of Act I, Chita sings and dances "Nowadays" from Chicago, alongside an empty spotlight representing the deceased Verdon. Chita turns to that spotlight when she sings, "but nothing stays."

Act II

Act II begins with a dance audition, during which the Puerto Rican Chita is rejected because she is "not Latin enough." An overhead mirror provides a view from above, and, proving she is "Latin enough," Chita dances several tangos opposite a male dancer ("Adios Niñino", "Detresse", and "Calambre"). This leads to further reminiscing about her great romances ("More Than You Know"). First, her ex-husband, Tony Mordente, father of Chita's daughter Lisa. Then, the restaurateur Joe Allen, whom she nearly married. "To Tony, Tom, Joe, and Greg. And others... you know who you are!"

Next, Chita pays tribute to the choreographers in her life- Jack Cole, Peter Gennaro, Bob Fosse, and Jerome Robbins- as she and the ensemble demonstrate their styles. The shadows of the ensemble cross in parade, demonstrating the individual styles of each choreographer. Then, Chita talks about some of her setbacks, including an automobile accident in which she broke her leg; losing the role of Anita to Rita Moreno in the film of West Side Story; and Fosse's heart attack. But, she considers herself lucky through it all - especially due to her collaborations with John Kander and Fred Ebb.

The song "A Woman the World Has Never Seen" wraps around a selection of Chita's greatest hits from her three Kander and Ebb roles: "Class" from Chicago, "Chief Cook and Bottle Washer" from The Rink, and "Kiss of the Spider Woman" and "Where You Are” from Kiss of the Spider Woman. This brings Chita back to where she started - the White House, where she concludes with her trademark number, "All That Jazz", with "Little Chita" shadowing her again.


The musical first opened at the Old Globe Theatre in San Diego, where it ran from September 10-October 23, 2005.[8] It then transferred to the Gerald Schoenfeld Theatre on Broadway on November 23, 2005, where it went on to play 20 previews and, following opening night on December 11 of that year, 72 performances. The play's Executive Producers were Marty Bell and Aldo Scrofani (the show credits 19 producers and associates). It was directed and choreographed by Graciela Daniele, with reproductions of original choreography by Jerome Robbins and Bob Fosse reconstructed by Alan Johnson and Tony Stevens, respectively. Mark Hummel was musical director and arranger, as well as the orchestra's conductor, while orchestrations were provided by Danny Troob. Loy Arcenas (sets), Toni Leslie James (costumes), and Jules Fisher and Peggy Eisenhauer (lighting) comprised the show's design team.

After the show's closing on Broadway, Rivera toured with it throughout the United States during 2006 and 2007.[9] Major changes were made for the touring version of the show: The numbers "Can Can", "Don't 'Ah Ma' Me", and "Where You Are" were all dropped, as were the Act II-opening Tango sequence and the character of "Young Chita/Young Lisa." Of the Broadway cast, only Richard Amaro, Lloyd Culbreath, and Richard Montoya went on tour with Rivera. Notably, however, Rivera's daughter, Lisa Mordente, joined the tour as dance captain and female swing. Cities on the tour included Philadelphia, Cleveland, and Boston. The tour concluded on June 10, 2007 in Norfolk, Virginia.

Since the ending of the tour, Rivera has performed a new solo cabaret act at the New York cabaret "Feinstein's at the Regency." Though this is not a recreation of The Dancer's Life, most of the songs and anecdotes featured in the cabaret (including the Ahrens & Flaherty songs) are the same as those in the Broadway show.


In addition to Chita Rivera (playing herself), the original Broadway cast featured Liana Ortiz as both the young Rivera and as Rivera's daughter, Lisa Mordente. The ensemble included Richard Amaro, Lloyd Culbreath, Malinda Farrington, Edgard Gallardo, Deidre Goodwin, Richard Montoya, Lainie Sakakura, Alex Sanchez, and Allyson Tucker. In four performances between January 24, 2006 and January 26, 2006, Rivera was joined by her Bye Bye Birdie co-star, Dick Van Dyke, in celebration of Rivera's birthday.

Song list[edit]

Chita Rivera: The Dancer's Life is a revue: the work of numerous composers and lyricists is represented.


Award nominations[edit]

The Broadway production received one Tony Award nomination for Best Actress in a Musical for Chita Rivera, Rivera's ninth. Rivera lost to LaChanze of The Color Purple.

Critical reception[edit]

While the show won a great deal of praise for its 72-year-old star's performance, the "non-Chita" aspects of the show received little critical acclaim. In his review for, Matthew Murray referred to the show as a "stretch-mark-pocked retrospective," and called McNally's libretto "scattered" and Daniele's direction "busy but uninspired," while calling Rivera "terrific." [10] David Rooney of Variety called the show "never less than enjoyable but too rarely exhilarating." He went on to say that McNally "[comes] off like a bumbling novice at theatricalizing a showbiz legend's life." [11] Ben Brantley of The New York Times said "the production elements often dim rather than enhance Ms. Rivera's natural incandescence. Never entirely, though. Which means that The Dancer's Life remains a must-have ticket for aficionados of the American musical."[12]


  1. ^ Gans, Andrew. "Chita Is Chita In Terrence McNally-Penned Show", November 24, 2003
  2. ^ "Chita Rivera presents 'And Now I Sing' at the Regency", accessed May 2m, 2014
  3. ^ a b Holden, Stephen."A Voice of Old Broadway Helps to Make Things New Again" The New York Times, February 24, 2005
  4. ^ "Press Release, Old Globe", August 12, 2005
  5. ^ a b Gans, Andrew. " Chita Rivera: The Dancer's Life Opens at the Old Globe Sept. 22", September 22, 2005
  6. ^ Louie, Elaine. "Currents: Dressing Rooms; Creating Spaces to Rest Those Dancing Feet" The New York Times', December 29, 2005
  7. ^ Gans, Andrew. "Together Again: Dick Van Dyke Joins Chita Rivera in The Dancer's Life Jan. 24-26", January 24, 2006
  8. ^ Gans, Andrew. " Chita Rivera: The Dancer's Life Opens at the Old Globe Sept. 22", September 22, 2005
  9. ^ Gans, Andrew. " 'Something to Dance About': Chita Rivera: The Dancer's Life Begins National Tour", December 19, 2006
  10. ^ Murray, Matthew. "Chita Rivera: The Dancer's Life". Talkin' Broadway. Retrieved 2007-11-28. 
  11. ^ Rooney, David (Dec. 11, 2005). "Chita Rivera: The Dancer's Life". Variety. Retrieved 2007-11-28.  Check date values in: |date= (help)
  12. ^ Brantley, Ben (Dec. 12, 2005). "You Just Can't Keep a Good Broadway Diva Down". The New York Times. Retrieved 2007-11-28.  Check date values in: |date= (help)

External links[edit]