Show queens and theater nerds were obviously in their element this past Monday evening, November 7th, when Broadway diva Chita Rivera headlined Carnegie Hall. The stage legend practically taught a master class on the way things should be done in show business. At 83, she ought to know. In a evening entitled “Nowadays”, Rivera took a thrilling and reflective walk down memory lane, recalling her leading roles in West Side Story, Sweet Charity, Chicago, The Visit, Kiss of the Spider Woman, The Rink, and Bye, Bye Birdie.
Opening with an abbreviated version of the concert’s title song (from Chicago), Rivera then launched into a medley of songs from John Kander and Fred Ebb’s Kiss of the Spider Woman including “Where You Are” and “Gimme Love”. Richard Amaro, Lloyd Culbreath, Raymond Del Barrio, and Robert Montano served as her top notch back-up dancers and framed her nicely in this section and throughout the evening. Michael Croiter served as her music director as his band of 15 musicians impeccably followed Rivera like a perfectly synchronized tango.
Rising star Andy Karl, who will be seen on Broadway in next season’s musical Groundhog Day joined her in selections from Bye,Bye Birdie (“A Lot of Livin’ to Do” and “Rosie”.) Rivera, along with Liza Minnelli, starred in the short lived 1984 flop, The Rink. The Kander and Ebb tuner lasted a mere 6 months at the Martin Beck theatre but musically, it offered some fine tunes including “Chief Cook and Bottle Washer”, and “The Apple Doesn’t Fall”, the latter of which Rivera sang with stage and screen star Alan Cumming.
Rivera spoke fondly of Kander and Ebb and acknowledged that she would not have had the career she did were it not for them. Her set list certainly—and thankfully—reflected her admiration for the musical duo.
World renowned violinist Itzhak Perlman accompanied her in a stunningly beautiful version of Jaques Brel, Eric Blau, and Mort Shuman’s “Carousel”. It began as a slow, peaceful waltz and ended in a frenzied dervish. The audience leapt to their feet at the song’s finish, one of many standing ovations Rivera received throughout the night.
Last year, Rivera starred in Broadway’s dark drama The Visit and returned to her role as Claire Zachannasian, a wealthy woman who comes back her hometown to exact revenge on a former lover. It was yet another Kander and Ebb show that was short-lived and met with mixed critical reviews. Personally, I loved it, but Rivera and director Graciela Daniele’s choice to include it in the evening felt misguided . Aside from “Love and Love Alone”, the songs, “I Would Never Leave You” and “Winter” simply didn’t work out of context.
Rivera recalled a phone call she got from Bob Fosse, Gwen Verdon, Cy Coleman. The director/choreographer, star, and composer (respectively) asked if she was interested in assuming the lead role of Charity Valentine in the national tour of Sweet Charity. She agreed and carried the show for a year and a half. She revisited Charity with “Something Better than This” and “Where Am I Going”
West Side Story was possibly Rivera’s biggest and most well-known shows. She spoke of how she learned the music in composer Leonard Bernstein’s apartment before singing “A Boy Like That”, “America”(with Hamilton’s Javier Munoz), and “Somewhere”, the last of which was deeply moving, thanks in part to the NYC Gay Men’s Chorus.
Leaving us with good ‘ole showbiz razzle dazzle, Rivera donned a tux with tails, a red bow-tie which matched her cherry red lipstick, and joined Cumming in a full version of “Nowadays” from Kander and Ebb’s smash hit Chicago. Broadway’s original Velma Kelly then gave the audience what they had waited for the entire night: “All That Jazz.”
Guitarist and actor Stevie Van Zandt joined her in a contemplative “Secret of Life” and Rivera ended the show with a medley of “Sweet Happy Life” and “Mas Que Nada”.
It’s difficult to convey in words what was like seeing such a Broadway professional of this caliber. Those who were fortunate enough to attend can vouch. Rivera is a star’s star and through all the highs and lows of a career, she remains gracious, grateful, and a beacon of inspiration-not only for those pursuing their dreams in the performing arts. But also for those who simply want to live a life fully lived.