Cabaret Review: CHITA RIVERA: MY BROADWAY (Samueli Theatre at Segerstrom Center)

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by Tony Frankel on November 12, 2011

in Theater-Regional,Tours

QUEEN OF THE GYPSIES

It’s a relief that Chita Rivera, one of the last great holdovers from the Golden Age of Broadway still performing today, told the audience in Costa Mesa that she doesn’t read notices. For while Chita the phenomenon is deservedly worthy of appreciation, Chita Rivera: My Broadway is so flat and surprisingly unemotional that the event would more aptly be called Chita Rivera: My Nightclub Act On The Love Boat. This may be the final leg of her tour, but, sad to say, it also points to what should be the final tour of her legs. Oh, the unconquerable Queen of the Gypsies will continue to find audiences for future shows, performing in different incarnations than this 75 minute, 14 number set, but at what point does a legend hang up her toe shoes and admit defeat to the ravages of time?

Chita Rivera: My Broadway - Samueli Theatre at Segerstrom Center for the Arts in Costa Mesa - Regional Theater Review by Tony FrankelAppreciative fans will no doubt look past the faltering vocals in wonderment that she still outshines others of her age (79 next January) – indeed, she looks positively stunning and exudes a sexy spunkiness which truly inspires. She still retains that magnificent Fosse-esque angularity of style in posture and arm movements, but her dancing is limited to that of an aerobics instructor at a retirement community, one who executes crosses and tiny kicks with aplomb (“Bless her heart” and “Where does she get that energy?” were overheard after the performance).

The vast numbers of retirees in the house are getting what they paid for: An Eveready Bunny of A Broadway Legend whose nostalgic presence validates the “good ol’ days,” while her plucky charisma and gung-ho spirit motivate them to keep moving. But the non-linear, run-on reminiscences combined with weak vocals made me worry that I will now forever remember Chita as an extraordinarily preserved relic of her former self (the amazing agility belonging to someone of her age is even more astounding considering the16 metal pins in her leg as a result of a 1986 traffic accident). Unlike the raconteur Elaine Stritch, whose blue tell-all accounts of Old Broadway made up for an aging body, Chita simply made me wince when she blew a kiss up to lyricist Fred Ebb in heaven.

Chita Rivera: My Broadway - Samueli Theatre at Segerstrom Center for the Arts in Costa Mesa - Regional Theater Review by Tony FrankelNo one can deny that this triple-threat gypsy – dancer, comedienne, and warbler – belongs to the pantheon of the Broadway firmament: her star turns in West Side Story (1957) and Bye Bye Birdie (1960) are legendary, but most of her shows since then were flops, save Chicago (1975) and Kiss of the Spider Woman (1993), when she saved an interminable show that never figured out what it wanted to be. Her performance as Aurora was rife with the heart-and-soul of a Broadway performer, a well-trained professional and survivor of the ups and downs of show business with an indomitable spirit that matched her distinctive, husky chirrup and lithe legginess. Even then at 60, she sounded, looked and danced better than her younger gypsies.

For now, Chita Rivera can be seen as one who is, and always will be, that brave, prideful, immortal of the stage, as well as a valiant heroine of the theatre who survives every upset, including a car accident, aging, and, above all, stinker shows.

Chita Rivera: My Broadway
Samueli Theatre at Segerstrom Center for the Arts in Costa Mesa
closes November 13, 2011
for tickets, visit SCFTA

{ 2 comments… read them below or add one }

Eddie B. November 12, 2011 at 7:38 pm

What a poor review, filled with glaring errors.

Rivera and Ebb were famously close. Kiss of the Spider Woman won a Tony for best musical and best score, and even though you didn’t like it, audiences did as it played Broadway for a few years and had a lengthy national tour. Far from not knowing what it wanted to be, its dual nature helped make it one of the more interesting musicals of the 90s. Perhaps Legally Blonde is more your taste?

As for most of her shows being flops since 1960, I guess you weren’t able to get a ticket to Nine on Broadway, the international tours of Zorba or CanCan, the revivals of Anything Goes or Chicago and missed her film and TV work. It seems you don’t *get* Rivera’s performance style. it’s not and never was about having Julie Andrews-type vocal clarity, but about the ability to tell a story through music and movement. Any “nightclub act on the love-boat” would do well to include material by Jacques Brel.

It says volumes that newspapers around the country (including The New York Times) disagree with your assessment of Rivera and her show.

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Johnny B. November 14, 2011 at 2:32 pm

I was Mr. Frankel’s guest at this performance, and let me tell you he was right on the money. How can you call it a “poor review” if you weren’t even there in Costa Mesa? It may have been a bad night for Chita, but it really was embarrassing — her vocals were weak and she barely moved. And this was not the same show that the NY Times reviewed, which had a band and dancing boys. This was just Chita with a combo (and there was nothing from Jacques Brel — what are you talking about?!). And with Cats as one of the longest running shows on Broadway, are you saying a lengthy run makes it a good show? Kiss of the Spider Woman is overlong and the songs and book simply don’t mesh. And just to clarify, I’m quite certain Mr. Frankel meant flop Broadway shows, not tours, etc.

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