Rarely is a Broadway star given their own retrospective musical on The Great White Way (especially while they are still around to sing and dance in them!); but few musical theatre actresses have proved to be as lasting, and iconic as Ms. Chita Rivera.
In 1944, Rivera’s mother enrolled her in the Jones-Haywood School of Ballet (now the Jones Haywood School of Dance) in D.C..Later, when she was 15, a teacher from George Balanchine’s School of American Ballet visited their studio and Rivera was one of two students picked to audition in New York City; she was accompanied to the audition by Doris Jones, one of the people who ran the Jones-Haywood School. Rivera’s audition was successful and she was accepted into the school and given a full scholarship, the rest is history.
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 would begin work on the show, and that workshops would begin 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.
In 2004, Chita 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. Though the one-woman show and its venue were intimate, the reviews were strong, and 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. Unfortunately, funding did not materialize, and the booking was canceled.
Late in 2005, the Old Globe Theatre in San Diego announced that the revue, now retiled, Chita Rivera: The Dancer’s Life, would open there on September 10 of that year. Following that announcement, a run at the Gerald Schoenfeld Theatre on Broadway was confirmed for the beginning of the 2005-2006 Broadway season. (Matthew White and Frank Webb were subsequently asked to design Rivera’s dressing room.)
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. Some song selections, 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 (see below). Closing after 72 performances, Rivera immediately embarked on a national tour, allowing the rest of the nation to view her unique story through song and dance.
Click below to watch scenes from Chita Rivera: The Dancer’s Life in 2005:
West Side Story Part 1
West Side Story Part 2
Bye Bye Birdie with Dick Van Dyke
“All That Jazz”
“Gypsy Run-Through” – NY1