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Broadway Legend Chita Rivera Dies at 91: A Tribute to Her Six-Decade Career

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Broadway Legend Chita Rivera Dies at 91: A Tribute to Her Six-Decade Career

(CTN News) – Chita Rivera, featured in over 20 Broadway musicals over six decades, has passed away, according to her daughter, Lisa Mordente. The three-time Tony Award-winning Broadway great developed memorable parts, including Anita in West Side Story, Rose in Bye Bye Birdie, Velma Kelly in Chicago, and Aurora in Kiss of the Spiderwoman. She was 91.

Chita Rivera “was everything Broadway was meant to be,” recalls Laurence Maslon, co-producer of the 2004 PBS series Broadway: The American Musical. “She was spontaneous, captivating, and unbelievably skilled for decades on Broadway. You could never forget her once you saw her.

Chita Rivera’s Impact on Broadway: A Journey Through Six Decades

You would believe Chita Rivera was a Broadway baby since childhood, but she wasn’t. During a Screen Actors Guild Foundation interview, Dolores Conchita Figueroa del Rivero, born in Washington, D.C., revealed that she was a tomboy who irritated her mother. “I’m putting you in ballet class so that we can rein in some of that energy,” she explained. So I am quite appreciative.

Chita Rivera embraced ballet so wholeheartedly that she received a full scholarship to the School of American Ballet in New York. Rivera secured a role in the Broadway show Call Me Madam after attending an audition with a buddy. Goodbye, ballet; hello, Broadway. In 1957, she had her breakthrough role as Anita in West Side Story, with a composition by Leonard Bernstein and Stephen Sondheim.

“Hearing ‘America’ was just mind-boggling, with that rhythm,” Chita Rivera told BBC during the musical’s 50th anniversary in 2007. “I could not wait to do it. It was quite a challenge. And, being Latin, you know, it was a comforting sound.”

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Chita Rivera’s performance in West Side Story showcased her acting and singing skills and her athletic dancing abilities. She recalls Leonard Bernstein teaching her the score himself: “I remember sitting next to Lenny and him starting with ‘A Boy Like That,’ teaching it to me and me saying, ‘I’ll never do this, I can’t hit those notes, I don’t know how to hit those notes.'”

But she did hit them, and Maslon believes that her ability to sing, act, and dance made her a prized Broadway commodity. “She was the first major triple threat. Broadway directors such as Jerome Robbins and Bob Fosse recognised the necessity for performers who could do all three things really well.

From 1960 to 2013, she headlined several enormous hits and some major disappointments. In 1986, Chita Rivera was involved in a terrible taxi accident. Her left leg was fractured, and doctors told she’d never dance again, yet she did—just differently.

“We all have to be realistic,” she told CTN in 2005. “I do not do flying splits anymore. I no longer perform back flips or other stunts. Do you want to know something? “I do not want to.”

But her celebrity never faded. She received numerous distinctions, including a Tony Award for lifetime accomplishment, a Kennedy Centre honour, and the Presidential Medal of Freedom. According to Maslon, Chita Rivera didn’t do much television or movies since she focused entirely on the stage.

“That’s why they’re called Broadway legends,” he said. “Hopefully you get to see them live because you’ll never get to see them in another form in quite the same way.”

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