I shouldn’t read my Playbill. Reading an ad during Fall for Dance made me want to go to the Vail Dance Festival: ReMix NYC. And reading an ad during the Vail Dance Festival: ReMix NYC made me want to go see Chita: Nowadays at Carnegie Hall. Chita is, of course, Miss! Chita! Rivera! who I had the pleasure to see in the 2003 Broadway revival of Nine. My online review at the time spoke glowingly throughout of Miss! Chita! Rivera!
Since I bought the ticket at the last minute, I didn’t have a wide choice of seats. Plus I had to buy the cheapest available. So that left me sitting way up in the balcony in a seat with an obstructed view. After so many nights at New York City Center the difference in size between that theater and Carnegie Hall is scary. Scary high and scary steep. It felt like I was miles away from the stage, the seat in front was right up against my knees (and I’m short), and the view was very obstructed. The railing made it difficult to see the stage at all. Really, the only good seats at Carnegie Hall are in the orchestra. If I looked around the head of the guy in front of me I could just make out Miss! Chita! Rivera!’s head and torso. So, I was missing her famous legs and missing seeing her dance, which is one of the reasons why you want to see her.
Another reason I was excited to be at the concert was because the two current stars of Hamilton were scheduled to be there. Unfortunately, Brandon Victor Dixon (Aaron Burr) was a no-show.
Miss! Chita! Rivera! came out in a red sequined dress with red tuxedo jacket and vest and red heels and red earrings. She started by sing/talking “Nowadays” (Chicago) – “It’s good/Isn’t it grand?/Isn’t it great?/Isn’t it swell? Isn’t it fun?/Isn’t it? Nowadays/There’s men/Everywhere” – and as she looked around the audience, everyone laughed. There were plenty of heterosexual couples and maybe even some single females like me but she knows her audience and the room was filled with gay men. She was backed by her dancers, Richard Amaro, Lloyd Culbreath, Raymond Del Barrio, and Robert Montano.
She talked about her past, specifically her leading men. Antonio Banderas (Nine) never missed a performance and was a great singer. At the end of their tango, when she had her leg up on his shoulder, she would say, “Eat your heart out,” to the audience. She sang “Where You Are” and “Gimme Love” from Kiss of the Spider Woman.
Another leading man was Dick Van Dyke (Bye Bye Birdie). Miss! Chita! Rivera! sang “A Lot of Livin’ To Do.” It’s not one of Rosie’s songs in the show but if Miss! Chita! Rivera! wants to sing a song, eventually she will get to sing it. She also sang “Rosie” with Andy Karl.
When she got the call for The Rink and was told that she’d be starring with her good friend Liza Minnelli, Miss! Chita! Rivera! was very excited because she had always wanted play girlfriends with Liza. The audience laughed knowingly. “Um, actually it’s a mother/daughter relationship,” she was told. “Who’s playing the mother?” she answered. She sang “Chief Cook and Bottle Washer” and then Alan Cumming came bouncing out to perform “The Apple Doesn’t Fall (Very Far From the Tree)” with her.
A surprise guest – Itzhak Perlman came out and played violin for “Carousel” ( Jacques Brel is Alive and Well and Living in Paris) while Miss! Chita! Rivera! sang a beautiful haunting breathless rendition of one of her favorite songs.
She was lucky enough to appear in the last Kander/Ebb musical The Visit. With her dancers, she performed “I Would Never Leave You,” “Winter,” and “Love and Love Alone.”
Miss! Chita! Rivera! got a call from Bob Fosse, Gwen Verdon, and Cy Coleman asking her to star in the original national touring company of Sweet Charity. She wondered if she could fill Gwen Verdon’s shoes. “Yes. If you buy your own shoes.” She sang “There’s Gotta Be Something Better Than This” and “Where Am I Going?”
One day she was walking around Time Square and she saw a poster for Bye Bye Birdie and then another for Chicago. Just then a bus passed by with a big ad for West Side Story on the side of it. “Should I be somewhere at 8pm tonight?” she wondered.
When she went to his apartment and saw Leonard Bernstein sitting at the piano for the first time, all she could think was, “Don’t throw up on Leonard Bernstein.” She didn’t throw up on him and she heard the songs for West Side Story for the first time. For us she sang “A Boy Like That” and then, with Javier Muñoz, they sang a new arrangement of “America.” Introduced as a song that is still relevant today, the New York City Gay Men’s Chorus joined by Muñoz and Karl sang “Somewhere.” The Chorus filled up the stage in front of the musicians and also the entire center aisle in the orchestra section. Their voices filled the theater and there wasn’t a dry eye in the house. (And let me note here since I don’t know if I’m ever going to get to see Muñoz in Hamilton – he has a wonderful voice.)
Miss! Chita! Rivera! and Cumming came back on stage in black tuxedos with top hats and canes and red shoes and ties. This time they both sang “Nowadays” and Cumming took the line “men everywhere” and there was a bit of wistfulness again for “But nothing stays in fifty years or so/It’s gonna change ya know.”
Miss! Chita! Rivera! was in good voice especially for an 83-year-old and there was some dancing but certainly not like in her younger days. For “All That Jazz” she struck a Fosse pose before the song and all the men came out in tuxes to sing with her – Cumming, Karl, Muñoz, (and I think) Matthew Deming, James Harms, and her dancers.
Then she told us that there are two things she loves – rock and roll and The Sopranos – and her final guest was Steve Van Zandt. It’s not clear in my notes but one of them said, “Look at that face. Marone!” I’m pretty sure it was Van Zandt saying that to Miss! Chita! Rivera! He came out with his electric guitar and accompanied her on James Taylor’s “Secret O’ Life” (Chita Rivera: The Dancer’s Life), which is a perfect song. Enjoy the passage of time because we’re on our way down and isn’t it a lovely ride? Miss! Chita! Rivera! has never been one to let a moment pass and she certainly has made the most of all her time here and continues to do so.
The evening ended with the medley “Sweet Happy Life/Mas Que Nada” (And Now I Swing) and Miss! Chita! Rivera! did a little back kick as she walked off the stage.
It was an incredible evening and I was so happy to be able to see Miss! Chita! Rivera! on stage again.
The show was directed and choreographed by Graciela Daniele and associate choreographer was Maddie Kelly. Musical direction and conception was by Michael Croiter and associate music direction was by Michael Patrick Walker. The wonderful musicians were Croiter (conductor/drums), Walker (piano), Jim Donica (bass), Dan Willis (reed 1), Charles Pillow (reed 2), Jeremy Miloszewicz (trumpet 1), Jim Hynes (trumpet 2), Bill Hayes (percussion), Randy Andos (trombone), Entcho Todorov (violin), Karlos Rodriguez (cello), and Lance Horne (accordion). Lighting design was by Andy Fritsch and Scott Stauffer did a wonderful job with the sound design. Miss! Chita! Rivera!’s dress was designed by Susan Hilferty.
Outside the theater was the most fabulous drag queen. She was wearing a long black beaded gown and seemed to be ten feet tall. I couldn’t see the heels under the gown. Her hair was also piled high and I felt sorry for the person who got stuck sitting behind her in the theater.
With Alan Cumming:
With Andy Karl:
With her back-up dancers:
By Carene Lydia Lopez