LIVE: Chita Rivera @ The Colonial Theatre, 07/31/2022

Every generation produces a few performers so iconic they are immediately recognizable by one name: Groucho, Harpo, Elvis, Marilyn, Madonna, Cher, Ringo. For people of a certain age, the same can be said for Chita. Multi-Tony award Kennedy Center Honors winner Chita Rivera came to play at The Colonial Theatre Sunday afternoon under the auspices of the Berkshire Theatre Group. The nearly 90-year-old Rivera, she doesn’t look a day over 70, presented her audience of obvious ardent admirers with about 70 minutes of songs, anecdotes from her illustrious career and even some greatly appreciated dance moves. 

Photo by Laura Marie Duncan

Her role as Anita in the original West Side Story on Broadway, 65 years ago, shot the then unknown to stardom. Her career has been on a star trajectory ever since, with roles in Chicago, Bye Bye Birdie, Guys and Dolls, The Rink and Kiss of the Spider Woman,to name a few.

Sunday’s performance was a trip down memory lane with stories of her associations with Leonard Bernstein, Kander and Ebb, how she got certain parts and songs, and of course the music itself. Music Director Michael Croiter has crafted an outstanding hour-plus of music that allows Rivera to shine. She is backed up by a trio of wonderfully talented musicians: Associate Music Director and pianist Gary Adler, who also adds touches of backup vocals as well as steers her back on track on those few rare occasions when she couldn’t pull up a certain name. He clearly carries her with a well-deserved velvet glove making certain she never stumbles. Jim Donica, jazz bass player who has been part of her ensemble for years and Joe Mowatt rounds out her trio on drums.

Chita opened her show with a long compilation of songs from her various Broadway hits including Chicago, Kiss… then a fast break and segued into “Got Lot of Living to Do” from Bye Bye Birdie. Her third number, which she said Fred Ebb always told her should be the quiet number, was just that – a moving rendition of “I Don’t Remember You” from the Kander and Ebb musical hit, Happy Time. She settled in and moved on with West Side Story classics “A Boy Like That” and “America”. 

The most moving number of the show was her rendition of “Carousel” from Jacques Brel is Alive and Well and Living in Paris. This number was the one where we were treated to a combination of Rivera’s acting talents, as well as her musical expertise. Andrew Fritsch’s beautiful lighting design helped create the mood and scene. 

About two-thirds through the show, Chita introduced her special guest, Broadway’s Scarlet Pimpernel, George Dvorsky. Dvorsky is familiar to many in the area for his frequent performances at Mac-Haydn Theatre in Chatham. He joined her on stage for a medley of songs from The Visit, “You You You” and “Winter”. It was a shame that his appearance was so brief as to be merely a tease of his stunning rich voice. 

Rivera wound up the afternoon with a lovely rendition of Carol Hall’s “My Circle of Friends”.

Photo by Laura Marie Duncan

The show proved that unlike many performers of a certain age, who should have gone quietly and faded into the background, Rivera still has what it takes. She is a bit unsteady on her feet, but she still knows how to put over a song. She remarks that her kicks aren’t what they were, but proclaims that she’s still here.  Clearly, she is enjoying herself as much on the stage as the audience is watching her. 

Her numbers have been adjusted when necessary to bring out her best, notes have been harmonized into a lower register, and are not held as long as they once were. Overall, it is clear that at nearly 90, Chita Rivera is an American treasure. This one-time-only production played to a fairly packed orchestra section. The balconies were not sold for this production.  She drank up the love that the audience poured over the footlights to her as much as she returned the favor.

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