Universally regarded as an American national treasure, Chita Rivera is Broadway's most accomplished and versatile dancer/actress/singer. A recipient of the prestigious Kennedy Center honor, Chita has won two Tony Awards as Best Leading Actress in a Musical and has received six additional Tony Award nominations. She most recently appeared on Broadway in Chita Rivera: the Dancer's Life, the story of her own life in the theater, written by Terrence McNally and directed by Graciela Daniele. She received a Tony nomination for this performance. Her most recent Broadway appearance previous to this was in the Tony Award winning revival of Nine, starring Antonio Banderas.

Born Dolores Conchita Figueroa del Rivero in Washington, D.C., on January 23, 1933, Chita’s parents were from Puerto Rico. Her father, Pedro Julio Figueroa, played clarinet and saxophone for the Navy Band; after his death when Chita was 7, her mother, Katherine Anderson del Rivero, went to work at the Pentagon. (Chita's mother died in 1983).

Young Conchita was a tomboy. To tone down her rambunctiousness, when she was 11, her mother enrolled her in the Jones-Hayward School of Ballet, a school run by an impressive pair of black women, Doris Jones and Claire Haywood. When Conchita was 15, a teacher from George Balanchine's School of American Ballet visited their studio. She was one of two students picked to audition in New York.

At the audition, Doris Jones calmed her student with a piece of advice. "Conchita, stay in your lane." Meaning, “Don't worry about the long bodies and blond ponytails lining up next to you for the auditions; be who you are!” Chita Rivera never forgot it. Chita paid tribute to Miss Jones in her autobiographical show, Chita Rivera: the Dancer's Life.

Chita was admitted to the prestigious school on the basis of her audition and was given a scholarship. Her teachers included some of the top American dancers of the century: Edward Villella, Allegra Kent, and Maria Tallchief among them. Soon, however, the ballet world lost and Broadway gained a future star when the 17-year-old aspiring ballerina accompanied a friend to the auditions for the national tour of Call Me Madam starring Elaine Stritch. Conchita intended only to support her friend, but she ended up landing the part herself. Other roles quickly followed in such shows as Guys and Dolls, Can-Can, Seventh Heaven, and Mr. Wonderful with Sammy Davis Jr.

 


Then in 1957, Broadway history was made when Chita’s electric performance as Anita in the Broadway premiere of West Side Story brought her stardom. Chita's talent enabled genius, Jerome Robbins, to realize his groundbreaking choreographic vision for the production. She married Tony Mordente, a dancer from the West Side Story cast, on December 1 of that year. (The couple divorced in 1966).


Handsome Tony Mordente
"The day our daughter, "Lisa," was born was the happiest day of my life; the day we split, the saddest." Chita Rivera

Chita's performance as Anita was so central to the success of West Side Story that the London production was postoned until after she had given birth to her daughter, Lisa Mordente.

The starring role in Bye Bye Birdie followed West Side Story, and Chita returned to the West End in 1960 to reprise her performance in that role as well. Around the nation or on tour, Chita subsequently starred in Born Yesterday, The Rose Tattoo, Call Me Madam, Threepenny Opera, Sweet Charity, Kiss Me Kate, and Zorba. A national tour of Can-Can with the Radio City Music Hall Rockettes took her to Japan as well. Chita also played Nicky in the film version of Sweet Charity with Shirley MacLaine. In a wry tribute to Nicky, Chita's character for her most recent screen appearance, a cameo in the film version of Chicago, is also named "Nicky."

Chita is currently preparing for the Signature Theatre production of the Kander, Ebb, McNally musical, The Visit.

Despite the many highlights of her stellar and historic career, Chita always maintains that her most treasured production is her daughter, singer/dancer/choreographer Lisa Mordente.

 


 


For an excellent recent article on Chita’s life and career, see “For Chita Rivera, A Career With Legs,” by Jacqueline Trescott, Washington Post, Sunday, December 8, 2002; Page G01: http://www.washingtonpost.com/ac2/wp-dyn?pagename=article&node=&contentId=A19229-2002Dec6&notFound=true

 



(NEWS foto)
On the Same Side Now
Chita Rivera and Tony Mordente toast each other following their wedding yesterday at Notre Dame Church, New Hyde Park, L.I. They play members of opposing gangs in musical, "West Side Story."

The newspaper photo of the Chita Rivera - Tony Mordente wedding in December 1957.

 

 

 

 

 




GOIN' BYE BYE. Glamorous Chita Rivera, aided by her de- lighted two-year-old daughter, Lisa, wows the photographers after boarding the liner United States. The dancer is on her way to London to recreate the role she portrayed in "Bye-Bye Birdie." Chita will be the lone American in the British Production of the smash Broadway musical.

Moments after this photograph was taken for the New York Mirror (April 15, 1961), the ship whistle blew, frightening two-year-old Lisa Mordente, who burst into tears. During the trip, Mother Chita had to cover her baby's ears whenever the noon whistle was about to blow!