Chita Rivera

Chita Rivera (born January 23, 1933) is an American actress, dancer, and singer best known for her roles in musical theatre. She is the first Hispanic woman and the first Latino American[1] to receive a Kennedy Center Honors award (December 2002). She was awarded the Presidential Medal of Freedom in 2009.[2]

Chita Rivera
Chita Rivera 1
Dolores Conchita Figueroa del Rivero

January 23, 1933 (age 86)
OccupationActress, dancer, singer
Years active1950–present
Tony Mordente
(m. 1957; div. 1966)
ChildrenLisa Mordente
External audio
You may watch "Chita Rivera" perform on YouTube

Early years

Rivera was born Dolores Conchita Figueroa del Rivero [note 1] in Washington, D.C., the daughter of Katherine (Anderson), a government clerk, and Pedro Julio Figueroa del Rivero,[3][4] a clarinetist and saxophonist for the United States Navy Band. Her father was Puerto Rican, and her mother was of Scottish and Italian descent.[5] Rivera was seven years old when her mother was widowed and went to work at The Pentagon.

In 1944, Rivera's mother enrolled her in the Jones-Haywood School of Ballet (now the Jones Haywood School of Dance).[6] 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 scholarship.[5]


In 1951, Rivera accompanied a friend to the audition for the touring company of Call Me Madam and ended up winning the role herself. She followed this by landing roles in other Broadway productions such as Guys and Dolls and Can-Can. In 1957, she was cast in the role which was destined to make her a Broadway star, the firebrand Anita in West Side Story. (The role would bring fame and an Oscar to another Puerto Rican, Rita Moreno, in the 1961 film version). Rivera starred in a national tour of Can-Can and played the role of Nickie in the film adaptation of Sweet Charity with Shirley MacLaine.[5]

On December 1, 1957, Rivera married dancer Tony Mordente. Her performance was so important for the success of the show that the London production of West Side Story was postponed until she gave birth to the couple's daughter Lisa. In 1960, Rivera created the role of Rose in the Broadway smash Bye Bye Birdie. She won raves for her performance, but was passed over for the film version where the role was played by Janet Leigh. In 1963, Rivera was cast opposite Alfred Drake in Zenda. The Broadway-bound musical closed on the road. In 1975 she appeared as Velma Kelly in the original cast of the musical Chicago.[5]

In 1984 she starred in the musical The Rink with Liza Minnelli and won her first Tony Award for her role as Anna. In 1986, while performing in the Jerry Herman musical, Jerry's Girls, Rivera was in a severe accident when her car collided with a taxi on West 86th Street in Manhattan. Injuries sustained included the breaking of her left leg in twelve places, requiring eighteen screws and two braces to mend. After rehabilitation, Rivera continued to perform on stage. Miraculously revitalized, in 1988, she endeavored in a restaurant venture in partnership with the novelist, Daniel Simone. The eatery, located on 42nd Street between 9th and 10th Avenue, was named 'Chita's' after her. It soon became a significant attraction for the after-theater crowds and remained open until 1994.[5] In addition to her ballet instructors, Rivera credited Leonard Bernstein and Gwen Verdon, with whom she starred in Chicago, as being people from whom she learned a great deal.[6]

Later years

Chita Rivera 2009
Rivera with President Barack Obama prior to receiving the Presidential Medal of Freedom, August 2009

She appeared as Fastrada in a filmed-for-television version of the musical Pippin in 1981. In 1993, she received a Tony Award for Best Leading Actress in a Musical for her portrayal of Aurora in the musical Kiss of the Spider Woman, written by Kander and Ebb.[5]

Rivera starred in the Goodman Theatre production of the musical The Visit (also by Kander and Ebb) as Claire Zachanassian in 2001. In 2008 she appeared in a revised production of the musical at the Signature Theatre in Arlington, Virginia, co-starring George Hearn.[5][7]

In 2003, Rivera returned to Broadway in the 2003 revival of Nine as Liliane La Fleur, and received her eighth career Tony Award nomination (Best Featured Actress in a Musical) and fourth Drama Desk Award nomination (Outstanding Featured Actress in a Musical). She appeared with Antonio Banderas. She later appeared on the revival's cast album.[5]

On television, Rivera was a guest on The Judy Garland Show. She guest-starred along with Michele Lee in a February 2005 episode of Will & Grace, and in December of that year, Chita Rivera: The Dancer's Life, a retrospective of her career, opened on Broadway. She received another Tony nomination for her self-portrayal. Though she was expected to reprise her role in a Signature Theatre staging of The Visit in autumn of 2007, that was later postponed to the following season. Instead, she performed at New York's Feinstein's At The Regency supper club in New York for two weeks. Rivera performed in a staged concert of The Visit as a benefit at the Ambassador Theatre on November 30, 2011.[8]

Rivera made a cameo appearance in the 2002 movie version of Chicago. Rivera guest-starred on Disney Channel's Johnny and the Sprites as Queen of All Magical Beings. The episode debuted on March 15, 2008.[9] In August 2009, US President Barack Obama awarded Rivera with the Presidential Medal of Freedom[2]

In the 1960s Rivera had recorded two albums, Chita Rivera: Get Me To The Church On Time and And Now I Sing. These early 1960s albums will be reissued on CD by Stage Door Records in February 2013.[5] In November 2008, Rivera released her third solo album, And Now I Swing.

Rivera performed on The Carol Burnett Show. Show #422. Original air date February 22, 1971.[10]

In 2012, Rivera played "Princess Puffer" in the new Broadway revival of The Mystery of Edwin Drood at Studio 54.

She was the Grand Marshal of the Puerto Rican Day Parade in New York City on June 9, 2013.

Rivera returned to Broadway in The Visit, the final musical written by John Kander, Fred Ebb and Terrence McNally. The musical opened at the Lyceum Theatre on March 26, 2015 and closed on June 14, 2015. Co-starring Roger Rees, the production was directed by John Doyle and choreographed by Graciela Daniele.[11] Rivera received praise for her performance, and was nominated for a Tony Award, Best Performance by a Leading Actress in a Musical.[12]



Sweet Charity (1969) trailer 2
Paula Kelly (third from right) and Chita Rivera (second from right) in
Sweet Charity (1969).


Awards, nominations and honors

Rivera has been nominated for the Tony Award ten times, as either Best Featured Actress in a Musical or Best Actress in a Musical. This is the current record for the most individual Tony Award nominations, which she shares with Julie Harris.

In 2009, Rivera was presented with the Presidential Medal of Freedom by President Barack Obama.

She was awarded an honorary Doctor of Fine Arts degree from the University of Florida in 2018.[13]


Year Award Category Nominated work Result
1961 Tony Award Best Performance by a Featured Actress in a Musical Bye Bye Birdie Nominated
1976 Best Performance by a Leading Actress in a Musical Chicago Nominated
1981 Bring Back Birdie Nominated
Drama Desk Award Outstanding Actress in a Musical Nominated
1983 Tony Award Best Performance by a Leading Actress in a Musical Merlin Nominated
1984 The Rink Won
Drama Desk Award Outstanding Actress in a Musical Won
1986 Tony Award Best Performance by a Leading Actress in a Musical Jerry's Girls Nominated
1993 Kiss of the Spider Woman Won
Drama Desk Award Outstanding Actress in a Musical Won
2002 Kennedy Center Honors Kennedy Center Honors Herself Won
2003 Tony Award Best Performance by a Featured Actress in a Musical Nine Nominated
Drama Desk Award Outstanding Featured Actress in a Musical Nominated
2006 Tony Award Best Performance by a Leading Actress in a Musical Chita Rivera: The Dancer's Life Nominated
2015 The Visit Nominated
Drama Desk Award Outstanding Actress in a Musical Nominated
Drama League Award Distinguished Performance Won
Theatre World Award John Willis Award for Lifetime Achievement in the Theatre.[14] Herself Won
2018 Tony Awards Lifetime Achievement in Theatre Won

See also


  1. ^ This name uses Spanish naming customs: the first or paternal family name is Figueroa and the second or maternal family name is del Rivero.


  1. ^ "In 35 Years, Kennedy Center has Honored Only One Hispanic American…Chita Rivera", AllGov, December 4, 2012.
  2. ^ a b "President Obama Names Medal of Freedom Recipients", White House Office of the Press Secretary, July 30, 2009
  3. ^ "Chita Rivera Biography", accessed October 29, 2011
  4. ^ "Biography". Archived from the original on November 13, 2015. Retrieved July 7, 2015.
  5. ^ a b c d e f g h i Ratner-Arias, Sigal (September 4, 2009). "Q&A: Chita Rivera reflects on life in the theater". Taiwan News. Associated Press. Archived from the original on 2016-03-04.
  6. ^ a b "Website of the Jones Haywood School of Dance"
  7. ^ Jones, Kenneth. "Chita and Company: Cast Is Complete for Signature's 'The Visit'" Archived 2008-04-12 at the Wayback Machine,, April 8, 2008
  8. ^ Haun, Harry. "A New Kind of Spider Woman: Chita Rivera Wows Broadway Crowd in Concert of Kander & Ebb's 'The Visit'" Archived 2011-12-02 at the Wayback Machine,, 1 December 2011.
  9. ^ Hernandez, Ernio (22 February 2008). "Photo Call: Chita Rivera Crowned Queen in 'Johnny and the Sprites'". Playbill. Archived from the original on 11 September 2012. Retrieved 2 February 2015.
  10. ^ The Carol Burnett Show Collector's Edition
  11. ^ Hetrick, Adam. "A Musical Nearly 20 Years in the Making: 'The Visit', Starring Chita Rivera, Arrives On Broadway at Long Last", March 26, 2015
  12. ^ Gans, Andrew. "69th Annual Tony Awards Nominations Announced!", April 28, 2015
  13. ^ Gans, Andrew. Chita Rivera Will Receive Honorary Doctorate From University of Florida Playbill, April 9, 2018
  14. ^ Viagas, Robert. "Dates Announced for 71st Annual Theatre World Awards; Chita Rivera To Be Honored", May 1, 2015

External links

A Boy Like That

"A Boy Like That" is a song from the 1957 Broadway musical West Side Story, with music by Leonard Bernstein and lyrics by Stephen Sondheim. In the musical, the song is paired with "I Have a Love" and is sung by the characters Anita and Maria. For the original Broadway cast recording, the song was performed by Chita Rivera (Anita) and Carol Lawrence (Maria). In the 1960 film version the roles were played by Rita Moreno and Natalie Wood, but the songs were dubbed by Betty Wand and Marni Nixon (as both Anita and Maria). However, the repeat of the two stanzas, sung by Anita, along with Maria's counterpoint of her defense, was omitted because of the complexity of the song, as well as to avoid the repetition, which would have slowed down the pace of the film.In 2010, Lin Manuel Miranda and Raul Esparza performed the song at Broadway Backwards, an annual Broadway Cares/Equity Fights AIDS showcase of show tunes sung by different genders. Miranda played Anita, while Esparza played Maria.

Chita Rivera Awards for Dance and Choreography

The Chita Rivera Awards for Dance and Choreography (previously titled the Fred and Adele Astaire Awards) celebrate outstanding dance and choreography in theatre, both on Broadway and Off-Broadway and in film at an annual ceremony in New York City at the Skirball Center for the Performing Arts. Now carrying the namesake of two-time Tony-winning dance icon Chita Rivera, The Rivera Awards will be presented under the auspices of American Dance Machine, an organization dedicated to the preservation of great musical-theater choreography.

Drama Desk Award for Outstanding Actress in a Musical

The Drama Desk Award for Outstanding Actress in a Musical is an annual award presented by Drama Desk in recognition of achievements in the theatre among Broadway, Off Broadway and Off-Off Broadway productions. The awards were established in 1955, with acting awards being given without making distinctions between roles in plays and musicals, or actors and actresses. The new award categories were later created in the 1975 ceremony.

† - indicates the performance won the Tony Award

‡ - indicates the performance was also nominated for the Tony Award

Forbidden Broadway, Vol. 2

Forbidden Broadway, Volume 2 is the second album released for Forbidden Broadway (FB), an off-Broadway musical that spoofs Broadway's latest musicals. The album was recorded and mixed in February 1991 in New York at Sear Sound.

In the liner notes, Gerard Alessandrini, the show's creator, gives an insight on the show. He explains first why Volume 2 is labeled as the "Unoriginal Cast Recording": firstly, there is already an FB original cast recording; secondly, Alessandri points out that very little about FB is original. He also explains the purpose of releasing a new album: the show had had six different editions, so after many requests by fans, a second volume seemed appropriate. The album includes their best from 1985, 1986 and 1990. All the lyrics and sketches for Forbidden Broadway Vol. 2 (and all other editions) are written by Gerard Alessandrini.

This time, FB attacks shows such as Les Misérables, La Cage aux Folles, Sweeney Todd, The Phantom of the Opera, and Into the Woods, and stars such as Stephen Sondheim, Madonna, Bob Fosse, George Hearn, Mary Martin, Chita Rivera and Rita Moreno. It even spoofs major theatre topics, such as the high prices of tickets, the confusion between Chita Rivera and Rita Moreno, the deterioration of Broadway, and the difficulty of Sondheim's lyrics.

Fred Ebb

Fred Ebb (April 8, 1928 – September 11, 2004) was an American musical theatre lyricist who had many successful collaborations with composer John Kander. The Kander and Ebb team frequently wrote for such performers as Liza Minnelli and Chita Rivera.

Gary Adler

Gary Adler is an American composer and musical director based in New York. He received two 2005 Drama Desk nominations (along with Zeyneb Bilal) for his music and lyrics for the off-Broadway show Giuseppe Russo, which had its premiere in the New York Musical Theatre Festival the year before. As a composer, Adler has written songs for Disney Channel's Johnny and the Sprites and Dance Dance Revolution, which was presented by Les Freres Corbusier in December 2008. Mr. Adler is a graduate of the University of Michigan where he studied under William Bolcom

Gary has served as the musical director for numerous shows, most notably Avenue Q. His other NYC conducting credits include Chita Rivera: The Dancer's Life, Urinetown, The Fantasticks and Nunsense.

Jones-Haywood School of Ballet

The Jones-Haywood School of Ballet, now known as The Jones-Haywood Dance School, was founded in 1941 by Doris W. Jones and Claire Haywood in Washington D.C. to teach young dancers of color classical ballet.Its students have gone on to dance with Alvin Ailey , Philadanco, Dutch National Ballet, The Washington Ballet, Paul Taylor Dance Company, on Broadway, and also become choreographers, actors and dance educators. Famous alumni include Chita Rivera, Hinton Battle, Sylvester Campbell, Louis Johnson and Sandra Fortune-Green.Jones and Haywood also founded the Capitol Ballet Company, a racially integrated professional ballet troupe that operated from 1961 to 1989. The school was also home to the Jones-Haywood Dancers.Haywood died in 1978 and Jones died in 2006. The school is now directed by Sandra Fortune-Green.

Kander and Ebb

Kander and Ebb were a highly successful American songwriting team consisting of composer John Kander (born March 18, 1927) and lyricist Fred Ebb (April 8, 1928 – September 11, 2004). Known primarily for their stage musicals, which include Cabaret and Chicago, Kander and Ebb also scored several movies, including Martin Scorsese's New York, New York. Their most famous song is the theme song of that movie. Recorded by many artists, "New York, New York" became a signature song for Frank Sinatra. The team also became associated with two actresses, Liza Minnelli and Chita Rivera, for whom they wrote a considerable amount of material for the stage, concerts and television.

Kiss of the Spider Woman (musical)

Kiss of the Spider Woman is a musical with music by John Kander and Fred Ebb, with the book by Terrence McNally. It is based on the Manuel Puig novel El Beso de la Mujer Araña. Directed by Harold Prince, the musical had runs in the West End (1992) and Broadway (1993) and won the 1993 Tony Award for Best Musical.

Despite a decidedly mixed review by Frank Rich, the musical ran on Broadway for 904 performances.

Lisa Mordente

Lisa Mordente (born July 30, 1958) is an American actress, singer, and dancer.

Born in New Hyde Park, New York, to choreographer and television director Tony Mordente and actress/dancer Chita Rivera (her birth postponed her mother's opening in the West End production of West Side Story [1]), Mordente made her Broadway debut opposite Alexis Smith in the short-lived 1978 musical Platinum. Marlowe (1981) was equally unsuccessful, but garnered her a nomination for the Tony Award for Best Performance by a Leading Actress in a Musical. She also was assistant to the choreographer for the 1993 production of The Who's Tommy, where she met performer Donnie Kehr, whom she married and later divorced.

Mordente's television credits include a regular role on the summer 1976 series Viva Valdez and guest appearances on Starsky and Hutch, Welcome Back, Kotter, Chico and the Man, The Cosby Show, and The A-Team. She served as choreographer for the movies The End and Sister Act.

Mordente also sang a duet with Adam Sandler called "Crazy Love" on his 1996 What the Hell Happened to Me? comedy album.

Mr. Wonderful (musical)

Mr. Wonderful is a musical with a book by Joseph Stein and Will Glickman, and music and lyrics by Jerry Bock, Larry Holofcener, and George David Weiss.

Written specifically to showcase the talents of Sammy Davis, Jr., the thin plot, focusing on entertainer Charlie Welch's show business struggles, primarily served as a springboard for an extended version of Davis's Las Vegas nightclub act.

The Broadway production, staged by Jack Donohue, opened on March 22, 1956 at The Broadway Theatre, where it ran for 383 performances. In addition to Davis, the cast included his father Sammy Sr. and uncle Will (who together with Davis had performed as the Will Mastin Trio), Jack Carter, Chita Rivera, Malcolm Lee Beggs, and Marilyn Cooper. The play closed on February 23, 1957.

Pittsburgh Civic Light Opera

Pittsburgh Civic Light Opera (Pittsburgh CLO) is a nonprofit professional theater company based in the Cultural District of Downtown Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania, USA. Despite its name, the organization presents musical theatre classics rather than opera. Its productions draw more than 200,000 patrons each year and its annual budget is nearly $10 million.

Established on 20 February 1946, it premiered at Pitt Stadium on 3 June 1946, where it offered outdoor performances until 1958. In 1961, the Civic Arena, was built to house the CLO. The arena, former home of the Pittsburgh Hornets (AHL, 1961-67) and the Pittsburgh Penguins (NHL, 1967-2010) hockey franchises, is covered by the world's first retractable roof, designed so that audiences might enjoy theater under the stars.In 1973 the company moved to the newly renovated former Penn Theatre that was now called Heinz Hall. The company moved to the Benedum Center in 1988. CLO opened its newest venue in 2004, The CLO Cabaret at Theater Square.

Pittsburgh CLO's history began when Abraham Lewis Wolk, a Pittsburgh City Councilman, attended a performance of the St. Louis Municipal Opera, the first American summertime musical theater. Wolk wanted to copy the idea, and after discussions with Pittsburgh retail magnate Edgar J. Kaufmann, who helped with financing, Pittsburgh CLO was established.

Since 1946, Pittsburgh CLO has been dedicated to the preservation, creation and promotion of live musical theater. Pittsburgh CLO produces a Main Stage Season, A Musical Christmas Carol and operates the CLO Cabaret. Programs include the Academy, Mini Stars, the Richard Rodgers Award, the Construction Center for the Arts and being a partner in Elephant Eye Theatricals. National touring includes Doctor Dolittle, Barry Manilow’s Copacabana and Joseph and the Amazing Technicolor Dreamcoat.

On Broadway Pittsburgh CLO has participated in Legally Blonde, Curtains, Monty Python's Spamalot, The Color Purple, Chita Rivera: The Dancer's Life, Thoroughly Modern Millie, Bombay Dreams, Flower Drum Song and Big River.

Pittsburgh CLO's numerous programs for students include the Gene Kelly Awards, founded in 1990.

In 2004, the Pittsburgh CLO produced The Music Man, featuring Jeff Goldblum as Harold Hill, alongside his then-girlfriend, Catherine Wreford, Illeana Douglas, and Ed Begley, Jr.. This production was later made the centerpiece of mockumentary/documentary Pittsburgh.

Roc-A-Fella Billionaires

"Roc-A-Fella Billionaires" is a song by American rapper Freeway, released July 10, 2007, as the lead single from his second studio album Free at Last (2007). The song, produced by Dame Grease, features a guest appearance from Roc-A-Fella label-boss and fellow American rapper Jay-Z. Grease's production contains a sample of a version of "Big Spender", originally written for the 1966 musical Sweet Charity, by Cy Coleman and Dorothy Fields, as performed by Chita Rivera and Paula Kelly.

Sweet Charity (film)

Sweet Charity (full title: Sweet Charity: The Adventures of a Girl Who Wanted to Be Loved) is a 1969 American musical comedy-drama film directed and choreographed by Bob Fosse (in his feature directorial debut), written by Peter Stone, and featuring music by Cy Coleman and Dorothy Fields.

It stars Shirley MacLaine and features John McMartin, Sammy Davis Jr., Ricardo Montalbán, Chita Rivera, Paula Kelly and Stubby Kaye. It is based on the 1966 stage musical of the same name – which Fosse had also directed and choreographed – which in turn is based on Federico Fellini, Ennio Flaiano and Tullio Pinelli's screenplay for Fellini's film Le Notti di Cabiria (Nights of Cabiria). However, where Fellini's black-and-white film concerns the romantic ups-and-downs of an ever-hopeful prostitute, the musical makes the central character a dancer-for-hire at a Times Square dance-hall.

The film is notable for its costumes by Edith Head and its dance sequences, notably "Rich Man's Frug".

The Visit (musical)

The Visit is a musical with a book by Terrence McNally, lyrics by Fred Ebb, and music by John Kander.

Based on Friedrich Dürrenmatt's 1956 satirical play about greed and revenge Der Besuch der alten Dame, it focuses on one of the world's wealthiest women, Claire Zachanassian, who returns to her financially depressed hometown and offers its residents a new lease on life in exchange for the murder of Anton Schell, the man who abandoned her years ago.

Tony Award for Best Actress in a Musical

The Tony Award for Best Performance by a Leading Actress in a Musical is awarded to the best actress in a musical, whether a new production or a revival. The award has been given since 1948, but the nominees who did not win have only been publicly announced since 1956.

Tony Stevens (choreographer)

Tony Stevens (May 2, 1948 – July 12, 2011), born Anthony Pusateri, was an American choreographer, dancer, and director who worked with, danced with, and directed many of Broadway and Hollywood's theatre-centric actors and actresses, including Chita Rivera, Martin Short, Robert Redford, and Gene Kelly.

Wonderworld (musical)

Wonderworld is a musical with lyrics by Stanley Styne and music by Jule Styne written specifically for presentation at the 1964 New York World's Fair's huge 11,000-seat amphitheatre. The large-scale "aqua-stage spectacle" used 250 performers and starred Chita Rivera. The expensive show filed for bankruptcy after two months.

Awards for Chita Rivera

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