Chita Rivera – the quintessential Broadway Baby – has razzle-dazzeled audiences for more than five decades. Last night at the Dunstan Playhouse in Adelaide the double standing ovation and rapturous applause proves that nothing has changed.
Rivera made her name on Broadway as Anita in the original West Side Story (1957) and has never strayed far from the spotlight. She has created some memorable Broadway characters like Rosie Alvez in Bye Bye Birdie (1960), Anna in The Rink (1984), and Spider Woman/Aurora in Kiss of the Spider Woman (1992) – which Rivera urges the audience not to confuse with the dangerously acrobatic Spider-Man (2011) – and perhaps her crowning glory, Velma Kelly in Chicago (1975).
Her cabaret show – My Broadway – is a comprehensive catalogue of her most famous and favourite Broadway hits. After warning the audience in her first number that ‘I won’t dance’, Rivera went on to move and groove in a way that would make a 30 year-old jealous, showing off her shoulder rolls and even throwing in the odd side kick. Highlights of the night included the solo rendition of ‘Camille, Collette, Fifi’ from Seventh Heaven with the obligatory feather boa, and the top-hat and cane clad ‘Nowadays’ (Chicago) where the voice of a true Broadway diva really let loose.
The sixty minute synopsis of a wondrous career was seamlessly integrated with anecdotes of her friendship with Kander and Ebb, name dropping (Sondheim, Bernstein, Minelli and Verdon) and personal career highlights. The musical prowess of her six piece band – led by Mr. Croiter (Drums) – complimented the diva superbly, allowing her unwaning physical presence and obvious love of performing to captivate the audience.
I was initially concerned that the endless curtain calls had taken their toll on Chita Rivera’s voice, but the smokey and harsh alto showed Adelaide audiences how ‘All that Jazz’ (Chicago) is supposed to sound. And, if I gauged the applause correctly, I think they liked it! With her Tony Awards (1984, 1993), Kennedy Center Honour (2002) and Presidential Medal of Freedom (2009) safe back home, Chita Rivera brought only passion, enthusiasm and vitality for her Australian performances. And who could ask for more? What an amazing career, what an amazing performer, and what amazing longevity! We’ve been graced by Broadway royalty.