Chita Rivera (born January 23, 1933) is an American actress, dancer, and singer best known for her roles in musical theater. She is the first Hispanic woman and the first Latino American  to receive a Kennedy Center Honors award (December 2002). She was awarded the Presidential Medal of Freedom in 2009.
Rivera (birth name: Dolores Conchita Figueroa del Rivero) was born in Washington, D.C., the daughter of Katherine, a government clerk, and Pedro Julio Figueroa del Rivero, a clarinetist and saxophonist for the United States Navy Band. Her father was Puerto Rican and her mother was of Scottish and Italian descent. 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). 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
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.
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 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.
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 after her, ‘Chita’s’. It soon became a significant attraction for the after-theater crowds and remained open until 1994. 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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
Rivera makes 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. In August 2009, president Barack Obama awarded Rivera with the Presidential Medal of Freedom
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. In November 2008, Rivera released her third solo album, And Now I Swing.
She was the Grand Marshal of the Puerto Rican Day Parade in New York City on June 9, 2013.
- Call Me Madam (1951)
- Guys and Dolls (1951) (replacement for Onna White)
- Can-Can (1953)
- Seventh Heaven (1955)
- The Shoestring Revue (1955)
- Mr. Wonderful (1956)
- Shinbone Alley (1957) (standby for Eartha Kitt)
- West Side Story (1957)
- Bye Bye Birdie (1960)
- Zenda (1963)
- Bajour (1964)
- Flower Drum Song (1966)
- Sweet Charity (1967)
- Irma La Douce (1968)
- Zorba (1969)
- 1491 (1969)
- Sondheim: A Musical Tribute (1973)
- Kiss Me, Kate (1974)
- Chicago (1975)
- V.I.P. Night on Broadway (1979) (benefit concert)
- Bring Back Birdie (1981)
- Anything Goes (1982)
- Merlin (1983)
- The Rink (1984)
- Chicago (1985)
- Jerry’s Girls (1985)
- Can-Can (1988)
- Kiss of the Spider Woman (1992)
- Chicago (1997)
- Dear World (1998) (workshop)
- Anything Goes (2000)
- The Visit (2001)
- Casper: The Friendly Musical (2001)
- Nine (2003)
- The Visit (2004)
- Chita Rivera: The Dancer’s Life (2005)
- The Visit (2008)
- The Visit (2011) (benefit concert)
- The Mystery of Edwin Drood (2012)
- The Visit (2014)
- Sweet Charity (1969)
- Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band (1978)
- He Makes Me Feel Like Dancin’ (1983) (documentary)
- Chicago (2002)
- Broadway: The Golden Age, by the Legends Who Were There (2003) (documentary)
- Kalamazoo? (2006)
- Carol Channing: Larger Than Life (2012) (documentary)
- Show Stopper: The Theatrical Life of Garth Drabinsky (2012) (documentary)
- Ben Vereen: Last of the Showmen (2012) (documentary)
- Move (2012) (documentary)
- The New Dick Van Dyke Show (cast member from 1973-1974)
- The Marcus-Nelson Murders (1973)
- Once Upon a Brothers Grimm (1977)
- Pippin: His Life and Times (1981)
- One Life to Live (cast member in 1982)
- Mayflower Madam (1987)
- The Outer Limits episode “The Bellero Shield”
Awards and Nominations
Rivera has been nominated for the highest theatre honour in the U.S, the Tony Award, on nine occasions.
- 1961 Best Featured Actress in a Musical for Bye Bye Birdie – nominated
- 1976 Best Actress in a Musical for Chicago – nominated
- 1981 Best Actress in a Musical for Bring Back Birdie – nominated
- 1983 Best Actress in a Musical for Merlin – nominated
- 1984 Best Actress in a Musical for The Rink – won
- 1986 Best Actress in a Musical for Jerry’s Girls – nominated
- 1993 Best Actress in a Musical for Kiss of the Spider Woman – won
- 2003 Best Featured Actress in a Musical for Nine – nominated
- 2006 Best Actress in a Musical for Chita Rivera: A Dancer’s Life – nominated
- “In 35 Years, Kennedy Center has Honored Only One Hispanic American…Chita Rivera”, AllGov, December 4, 2012.
- “President Obama Names Medal of Freedom Recipients”, White House Office of the Press Secretary, July 30, 2009
- “Chita Rivera Biography” filmreference.com, accessed October 29, 2011
- Ratner-Arias, Sigal.“Q&A: Chita Rivera reflects on life in the theater” etaiwannews.com (Associated Press), September 4, 2009.
- “Website of the Jones Haywood School of Dance” joneshaywood.com
- Jones, Kenneth. “Chita and Company: Cast Is Complete for Signature’s ‘The Visit’”, playbill.com, 8 April 2008. Retrieved 04-27-2008.
- Haun, Harry. “A New Kind of Spider Woman: Chita Rivera Wows Broadway Crowd in Concert of Kander & Ebb’s ‘The Visit’”, playbill.com, 1 December 2011.
- Photo Call: Chita Rivera Crowned Queen in “Johnny and the Sprites”, Playbill.com
- Official website
- Chita Rivera at the Internet Broadway Database
- Chita Rivera at the Internet Movie Database
- 2003 Interview with Chita Rivera about West Side Story
- TonyAwards.com Interviews with Chita Rivera
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