Saturday, May 26, 2012

cabaret review CHITA RIVERA, NJPAC, May 19

Chita Rivera can't stand still.  Though she may claim "I Won't Dance, Don't Ask Me," the fact that the two time Tony winner is constantly moving around the stage throughout her cabaret show makes it hard to believe she will be turning 80 early next year.  She has been touring her show "Chita Rivera, My Broadway" around the country and we caught her stop at NJPAC's Chase Room in Newark this past Saturday.

While her voice may be just a little rough around the edges and she might not be able to hold the notes as long as she used to, she still has so much power in her voice that when combined with her acting skills she still manages to completely deliver every song she sings.  She also has such charm and personality that carries throughout the theatre and in telling her stories about her life she adds so much humor to them that she comes across as such a down to earth person, well a down to earth person who just happens to have won two Tony's and starred in about fifteen Broadway shows.

She says she's from "the golden age" and while she says she's scared of what comes after that, she loves that she is from that era, a period when every theatre had a show in it and there were only new shows on Broadway.  She says that today there are so many revivals but that a few years ago she had a wonderful experience when she was walking through the Times Square area and passed posters for the revival of Bye, Bye Birdie and Chicago and then had a bus pass her that had a huge sign for the revival of West Side Story on it.  Chita talks about how much of an honor it is to having appeared in the original casts of all of those shows and how happy she was to see all of them on Broadway at the same time.  She said that after seeing those three posters and billboards "I thought, wait, am I supposed to be somewhere at 8:00 tonight?"

After her opening number that combined the afore mentioned "I Won't Dance" with the Irving Berlin classic "Let Me Sing," it was chilling to hear her sing a pairing of "A Boy Like That" and "America" from West Side Story.  If you shut your eyes you'd swear you were listening to the cast album that was made over fifty years ago.  And of course, during "America" she kicked up her heels across the small stage in the Chase cabaret room.

"Sweet Happy Life" has a nice message about making sure you live each day to the fullest with plenty of laughter and love.  It also has a rousing beat that found Chita moving across the stage to connect with the audiences on all three sides of the stage. 

In the many stories Chita told throughout the show she mentioned about being so lucky and fortunate to have lived such a great life as well as having had so many good friends in her life.  Two of those friends were the songwriting duo of John Kander and Fred Ebb.  "I Don't Remember You" is one of the earliest songs that Kander and Ebb wrote from the show The Happy Time.  Chita appeared in numerous Kander and Ebb shows, almost all of which have been recorded, so it is nice to hear her sing a Kander and Ebb song from a show she didn't appear in.  The message of the song is about aging and the inability to not always remember certain things and it included an amazing guitar accompaniment from Michael Croiter, who is also the music director for the show.   She commented that with all of the recent talk about the behind the scenes issues of the Spiderman musical that people forget that she was there first as the "Spiderwoman" in the Kander and Ebb show Kiss of the Spider Woman.  She won her second Tony for her role in that production. She sang a pairing of two songs from that show "Where You Are" and the title song and, like her take on those two songs from West Side Story, didn't sound any different than her performance on the cast recording.

Back in the 1960's, Chita starred in the National Tour of Sweet Charity as well as appeared in the 1969 film version.  Her take on "Where Am I Going?" from that show was a bit out of the ordinary .  Usually the number is sung in a more subdued quiet way, but Chita delivered it with an emotional rawness that I'd never heard before.  She talked about her leading men and how lucky she's been, including how much fun she had dancing a tango with Antonio Banderas in the revival of Nine.  In Seventh Heaven her co-star was Ricardo Montalban and she sang the humorous song "Camille, Collette, Fifi" in which she originally played the part of Fifi.  She expertly played all three parts when she sang the song, providing different characterizations to the three different parts.   Talking about her male co-stars was a perfect segue to her talking about the couple of guys she has loved over her years.  Her take on "Not Exactly Paris" was a lush and romantic story about remembering the one love of your life.

She talked about when she was first asked to star in The Rink and that she was so happy to learn that her co-star was going to be Liza Minnelli.  She said she'd always wanted to play sisters with Liza and was silent when she was told that she wasn't going to play Liza's sister but her mother.  "Chief Cook and Bottle Washer" is a fun character driven song and, once again, Chita sounded exactly the same as she did almost thirty years ago when that show first premiered and when she won her first Tony for her performance in that show.

"Carousel" from Jacques Brel is Alive and Well and Living in Paris is a song that when delivered right can be an absolute showstopper.  Chita starred in a production of the show with Theodore Bikel.  "Carousel" is a song about how we are all on a crazy carousel that is turning round and round that starts off slow and the accompaniment begins going faster and faster just like a carousel spinning out of control.   Chita managed to turn the song into a theatrical event that ended with a rousing ovation from the audience. 

"Nowadays" and "All that Jazz" are two songs closely associated with Chita and her performance in the original Broadway production of Chicago.  Both begin with vamps that are closely identified with each song and Chita mentioned that whenever she hears the one for "Nowadays" she always sees Gwen Verdon standing next to her as that song is a duo for the two female leads in the show.  Verdon died in 2000, so Chita's performance of the song, now as a solo, was touching in the way she delivers it as somewhat of a tribute to her friend and co-star.  In talking about the vamp that introduces "All That Jazz," Chita talked about how happy she was with the film version of the show.  She said that she told Catherine Zeta Jones, who played the part of Velma that Chita did originally on Broadway and who won the Oscar for her perfomance "you can keep the Oscar, but I get to keep the vamp."  Chita then delivered a rousing performance of the song that found her once again dancing all over the stage.

Chita ended her show with an encore of "Circle of Friends" by Carol Hall.  With all of Chita's talk about the many friends she's had over the years it was a perfect way to end the show.

Chita Rivera is a true living legend.  And she isn't stopping anytime soon as she'll be back on Broadway this Fall in a revival of The Mystery of Edwin Drood.  If Chita comes to your town don't miss the chance to see her.

Most of the songs Chita performed in her cabaret show can be heard on her latest cd "And Now I Swing"

Chita's official Website

Chita sings "Where You Are" from Kiss of the Spider Woman -

Chita and Gwen Verdon perform "Nowadays" from Chicago on The Mike Douglas Show - also includes an interview with both of them

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