Chita Rivera: The Dancer's Life
Also see David's review of A Tale of Two Cities
Though inclement weather in many nearby areas diminished the size of the crowd, those present at the Paramount opening of Chita Rivera: The Dancer's Life got to see for themselves that Broadway's original Anita, Velma Kelly and Aurora is still going strong at age 74. As on Broadway (where the song list was slightly different and there was a child actress playing the young Chita, who doesn't figure in the tour), this show is more a review of highlights of an amazing, lengthy career than it is a tell-all life story, ala Elaine Stritch At Liberty. Those seeking inside showbiz dish will be disappointed. Those seeking a warm-hearted, snappily paced, and above all vibrantly sung and danced entertainment have come to the right show.
Humor and good taste inform Terrence McNally's book while melodic, witty original songs by Lynn Ahrens and Stephen Flaherty punctuate the showstopping numbers from many of Chita's musicals. Frequent collaborator, director/choreographer Graciele Danielle, creates a fluidity of movement throughout as Chita and her accomplished ensemble of dancers skillfully execute a multitude of dance styles (highlighted by Alan Johnson's recreation of Jerome Robbins' choreography and Tony Stevens' recreation of Bob Fosse's moves).
For general audiences the West Side Story tribute perhaps will resonate the most, and Chita makes it impossible to believe that it has been 50 years since she created the role of Anita, especially when her vocal of the Bernstein/Sondheim "A Boy Like That" is so eerily similar to the way she sounds on the original Broadway cast album. The male dance soloists in the company get a great spotlight in a segment dedicated to the men in Rivera's off-stage life, and a sequence saluting her choreographers is also a high point.
The standout moments in the show belong to two of Chita's numbers from Chicago. A tribute to her late, legendary idol and eventual Chicago co-star Gwen Verdon has Rivera in one spotlight, with another spot where Gwen would be. This is the show's most moving and transcendent moment, and it felt oddly placed at the end of act one, as it seemed to be an ideal next to closing moment for the show. As for Chita's "All that Jazz," sorry Catherine Zeta-Jones, Bebe Neuwirth and the rest of you. Rivera is the one and only original Velma Kelly.
Loy Arcenas' scenic design and Beverly Emmons' lighting design combine to give the production a rich, sleek look, and the star and ensemble are handsomely attired in the fine costumes by Toni-Leslie James.
With a return to Broadway in the Kander and Ebb musical The Visit still brewing, we can look forward to another memorable characterization from this legendary triple threat entertainer. Meanwhile, Chita Rivera: The Dancer's Life should be required viewing for all hopeful performing arts students, as it offers a vibrant lesson in the kind of dedication, perseverance and discipline necessary to sustain a career in show business.
Chita Rivera: The Dancer's Life at the Paramount, 9th & Pine in downtown Seattle through March 4. For more information go online at www.theparamount.com.