Chita Rivera, the Puerto Rican-American singer, actress and dancer is a legend in the world of musical theater. This two-time Tony Award winner is still swinging after all these years!
Windy City Times: Hola Chita. Your middle name is Conchita. [ Note: Her birth name is Dolores Conchita Figueroa del Rivero. ] When did they start calling you Chita?
Chita Rivera: Well, it was in the '60s. I was going by Conchita Del Rivero and a show called Shoestring Review said that it was just too long [ and ] typically American. People had been calling me "Chita" so that was fine, but I wanted my last name to have an "a" on it. There's gotta be a rhythm to it. So then I thought Chita O'Hara because I loved Maureen O'Hara. But people then embarrassed me by hanging up when I called and said Chita O'Hara. For three days that lasted; then I changed to Rivera since it rolled off the tongue better.
WCT: There was a restaurant named after you called Chita's in New York.
CHITA RIVERA: Yes, it was open for six years. It was a lot of fun.
WCT: You originally started in a Broadway production Call Me Madam because you went with a friend to an audition. Did you ever think it would lead to all this?
CHITA RIVERA: It all starts very simply. If you are lucky it goes in the right direction. If you are unlucky then you are in trouble. It's all the games of life that happen.
WCT: I saw your performance in Kiss of the Spider Woman.
CHITA RIVERA: Oh, yes in Chicago. I love Chicago. I haven't been there since I did The Visit [ in 2001 ] .
WCT: You just won the Presidential Medal of Freedom this August given to you by Barack Obama. How was that experience?
CHITA RIVERA: It is something that I will never forget. Outside of having my daughter Lisa, it's the most exciting experience that I have ever had. This particular president is wonderful. To be along side these amazing people, it's a gift and you don't know how you did it. He said during his speech that these are people that do what they do because it's a passion, not for fame, not for money, just for hard work and they just do it. When you live your life like that and you are given a reward, you go wow! It's a great example for kids that something wonderful can happen if they work hard at what they do and do their very best. I am thrilled that I am considered an example.
WCT: Tell our readers about your new CD, And Now I Swing.
CHITA RIVERA: Well, years ago I did many shows in London. A producer named Michael Croiter said, "Let's do an album." The album was titled And Now I Sing. But we changed it to Swing so we could do a swing album. It started with songs that I had done in so many wonderful shows but we changed the beat. We did it from a different angle and that's what this is.
WCT: I loved hearing "Nowadays," from Chicago the Musical, on the CD.
CHITA RIVERA: I haven't even heard the whole thing yet. I don't listen to any of the shows that I have done until months later. It never seems to sound the way it feels. You know what I mean?
WCT: Yes, and it could change your performance also.
CHITA RIVERA: Yes, absolutely! When we do those cast albums, as far I am concerned and most feel this way, we do it much too soon. Because we haven't really discovered the characters until we have been running for a while.
WCT: You have a song called "Circle of Friends."
CHITA RIVERA: That's a wonderful song. It comes close to the end of my act. It's about all of my friends that I have had through my entire life. It brings the audience together.
WCT: Is there any role in a musical that you have wanted to do and haven't?
CHITA RIVERA: You know what? I haven't said that I wish I had done one that I haven't, no. Isn't that nice to say?
WCT: Yes, it is.
CHITA RIVERA: Besides the roles that I have been fortunate to do are all so gratifying. Many of them have been in shows that break boundaries. You have a diamond; what are you going to wish forsomething bigger than a diamond? I don't think so! [ Both laugh. ] Except maybe another diamond, which is what I wished for when I did The Visit at the Goodman Theatre several years ago. The song "Love and Love Alone" is from that. Is the Goodman still running great?
WCT: Yes. They have a show called Animal Crackers about the Marx Brothers right now that a friend of mine is in.
CHITA RIVERA: Oh, wow! That sounds like fun. Wish your friend good luck from me.
WCT: I will. So what are doing "Nowadays?"
CHITA RIVERA: We are taking the show around the country. We are booked well into the next year. Some of them are just my trio and some with a thirty-piece symphony orchestra. I will have a variety of feeling musically, so we are excited about it.
It is an honor to talk to such an amazing performer. And Now I Swing is out now.