Chita A Go-Go

In Theatre Interview by George Horsfall

(Disclaimer: I'm just transcribing the article -- all copyright privileges are still held by the copyright holders at InTheatre-- I do believe this constitutes a fair use by putting this on a not-for-profit site.

Notes: This interview was published before her run in Fort Lauderdale. Questions are in bold. Chita's answers are in regular type. Two pictures were with this article, and will be scanned in and added as time permits me.)

Still kicking up her heels, Chita Rivera's Back on the Road in a New Show

Having recently completed a three-week engagement at San Francisco's Golden Gate Theater, Chita & All That Jazz, a career retrospective starring the great Chita Rivera, arrives in Fort Lauderdale on Dec. 29-31 and comes north to Wilmington Jan. 2-11 on its pre-Broadway tour. Conceived and written by Rivera's friend and frequent collaborator Fred Ebb and directed by Alan Johnson, C&ATJ was radically revised, re-focused, and -- in this case -- improved during it's San Francisco run. The challenge was not to come up with show-stopping material, but rather to narrow the possibilities in shaping a few hours' worth of entertainment from a career that reads like a 40-year history of the Broadway musical theater.

The gracious Rivera recently talked about life on the road and the development of her new show.

After an extended tour with Kiss of the Spider Woman, how does it feel to be on the road again?

Well, you kind of forget, you know? [She laughs.] When you're home and you're rested, you think, "Oh great -- this is going to be fun." Then you go on tour and at the end of five weeks, you're not so sure! Being onstage in New York at the ribbon cutting [of Garth Drabinsky's new Ford Center], I thought, 'Oh God, this is where I want to be!' My heart is on Broadway, but you have to go where the work is. And listen, it's nice to have someone else make your bed once in a while.

What is your impetus to do this show?

I want my audiences to get to know me a little better -- not just the rules and songs I've performed over the years, but all the different sides of my personality. For example, I love to do comedy; I'm having a wonderful time out there with the Marriage of Figaro spoof. We're still fine tuning the number, but it's one of my favorites.

Why did you decide to take All That Jazz out of town first?

Opening something in New York is like having an operation in the middle of 42nd Street and inviting everybody to take a look. They all say, 'We won't say a word -- we know this is a preview.' -- and then they run directly to the phones. Going out of town gives you the chance to focus on the work without all the pressure.

How has your concept of the show changed after a month of performance?

I have a long career to look back on, so the whole process is really one of self-discovery. Whatever seems most entertaining and honest is what shows up on stage. And I know we're going to continue with changes, cuts, and additions as we move along.

I noticed the omission of a few hits. Bye Bye Birdie, for example, is barely referred to.

There's just so much to draw from. By necessity, we have to leave out a lot of good material.

How does All That Jazz compare to your London Palladium concerts?

Those concerts featured only two other dancers, and all the music wasn't specifically show music. This show is centered mostly around my theatre career.

You must be tired of the term "legend", but let's get it out of the way. You have long been considered a Broadway legend.

Oh, God! [She laughs.]

Who were some of the dancer/actors who inspired you?

George Balanchine, of course, and all the people from American Ballet Theater, since I began as a ballet dancer. Of the Broadway people, Gwen Verdon was -- and is -- the best. Then there was Carol Haney, who died far too young, and Bobby Fosse, Jersome Robbins, Michael Kidd, Jack Cole.

And who inspires you today? How about the six dancers in this show?

Yeah, how about those guys! I love them. Do you know, four of them were with me in Kiss of the Spider Woman. They're the best -- so handsome and talented. In many of the numbers, we spar, and I want even more of that dynamic on stage. But I want to see the girl win every time. [She laughs.] Well, it's my show!

Do any problems still arise from your car accident years ago?

No, not really. People always ask me if I can feel it when the weather changes, and I don't. A couple of weeks ago, I could have sworn that one of the screws in my leg was coming loose, but there's not a chance of that happening. There's calcium all around those pins, so they aren't moving anywhere.

Which of the many parts you've played do you consider your signature role?

I suppose most people would like to hear me say Anita in West Side Story, I was actually a little reticent to include WSS material in this show, but it's so thrilling to get back into that original costume. And I love the way the numbers are performed, with some dramatic action along with the songs. I'm lucky in that my roles have been diverse. I played a mother in The Rink, and Rosie -- which is such a light, breezy part -- in Bye Bye Birdie. Then I did Spider Woman and Chicago, which are so dark. I guess that's why I like doing All That Jazz: It allows me to show all these different sides of me. And there are still more!

Your singing and dancing are still in top form. Is the definitive Chita Rivera yet to come? Is there a book musical in your future?

Of course the best is yet to come! And yes, I'm always interested in another good book show. But for now I have a tour to concentrate on, and that's plenty exciting.

What's the key to keeping your energy up on the road?

You're in such a strict routine; you rest, you eat at the same time every day. The only time I celebrate is after the last show of the week. Then I'll go out and have a nice big meal. Every Saturday night after doing Kiss, Brian Mitchell would come to my dressing room and we'd have mimosas and wind down after a week of hard work. That's really quality time, where you can be with each other as people rather than as who you are playing onstage.

How do you make the road feel like home?

First of all, you take everything you can possibly fit in four trunks -- and everybody's picture, including the postman's. Pillows, special things that feel like home...some people take their own pots and pans! I've spent a lot of Christmases on the road, and I always have a tree, and my family comes to me. Home is where the heart is.

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