Celebrate Chita Rivera's Birthday by Looking back on Her Greatness

edited January 24 in Theatre Concerts


Today marks the 88th birthday of the theatrical legend, Chita Rivera - in honor of her and her incredible career, we have compiled 8 magnificent performances we recommend you dive into for the day!

Born Dolores Conchita Figueroa del Rivero, to a Puerto Rican father and Scottish Italian mother, Chita was handpicked to attend George Balanchine’s School of American Ballet at 15. From there she was cast as a dancer in the original productions of Guys and Dolls, Can Can, Mr. Wonderful, and Seventh Heaven. In 1957 she was cast in her first leading role, as Anita in West Side Story, and her star was launched into the stratosphere. 

3 years later, she was nominated for her first Tony Award, playing Rosie in Bye Bye Birdie. Birdie has gone on to be one of the most produced high school musicals of all time, with thousands of young artists stepping into Chita’s shoes. 

In 1963, Chita appeared on The Judy Garland Show - Judy had always been a friend of dancers, and their pairing proved perfect on Judy’s show - so perfect in fact, that Chita found herself echoing Judy when she played Liza’s mother in The Rink two decades later. 

In 1975 she originated the role of Velma in Chicago , alongside Gwen Verdon. A longtime collaborator of John Kander and Fred Ebb, Chicago marked the first time she originated a role in one of their shows. It was of course not the last time.

The Rink was written by Kander and Ebb for Chita - although it also starred Liza Minnelli, another longtime favorite, they had written The Act for her six years prior, and The Rink was their opportunity to really show off Chita’s talent. She won her first Tony Award for The Rink , shortly after the passing of her own mother. 

In 1993, after a potentially career-ending car accident, Chita returned to Broadway with Kiss of the Spiderwoman, for which she won her second Tony. It was a remarkable return that cemented Chita as one of the strongest, longest-lasting dancers in Broadway history. 

Following her one-woman show, The Dancers Life , Chita pulled back from Broadway to focus on her personal life. She was brought back in 2012 to play the devious Princess Puffer in the first revival of The Mystery of Edwin Drood, where she brought down the house every night. 

Chita was awarded the Kennedy Center Honor in 2002 for her tremendous artistic output - performers and presenters included Hal Prince, Brian Stokes Mitchell, Donna Murphy, Charlotte d’Amboise, and Valarie Pettiford.

Perhaps Hal said it best, “Chita is a star. A term that applies to very few very special people. Ethel Merman, Mary Martin, Julie Andrews - performers with their own aura, who in essence carry around their own spotlight.

Chita, you’ve owned your spot on that exclusive list, and tonight we celebrate you.”

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