Chita Rivera: the Dancer's Life


Chita Rivera: the Dancer's Life is a tour through landmark creations in the American theater, helmed by some of the greatest choreographic talents in its history, including Jerome Robbins, Leonard Bernstein, Bob Fosse, Peter Gennaro, Gower Champion, Jack Cole, and Michael Kidd. The show features numbers from such Chita hits as West Side Story, Bye Bye Birdie, Chicago, and Kiss of the Spider Woman, as well as new songs by Lynn Ahrens and Stephen Flaherty. Starring Chita, written by Terrence McNally, with direction and choreography by Graciela Daniele, the show was created by Chita's longtime music director, Mark Hummel. The production played at Broadway's Jacob Schoenfeld Theatre through February 19, 2006 for a total of 72 performances and 20 previews. A national tour was successful in every city it played.

Chita Rivera: the Dancer's Life

Book by Terrence McNally
Director and Choreographer Graciela Daniele  
Scenic Designer Loy Arcenas  
Costume Designer Toni Leslie James
Lighting Designers Jules Fisher & Peggy Eisenhauer  
Sound Designer Scott Lehrer  
Creator and Musical Director Mark Hummel  
Stage Manager Arturo Porazzi


Chita Rivera
Young Chita, Liana Ortiz
Ensemble: Richard Amaro, Cleve Asbury (swing), Lloyd Culbreath, Madeleine Kelly, Malinda Farrington, Edgard Gallardo, Deirdre Goodwin, Richard Montoya, Lainie Sakakura, Alex Sanchez, Allyson Tucker
Young Chita Understudy, Jasmine Perri

The national touring company includes Richard Amaro, Lloyd Culbreath, and Richard Montoya from the Broadway company as well as Raymond Del Barrio, Carolyn Doherty, Pascale Faye, Ramon Flowers, April L. Nixon and Jennifer Savelli. Chita's daughter, Lisa Mordente, serves as dance captain and is the swing for the female ensemble.


Chita Rivera: the Dancer's Life Trivia

The song “Perfidia” was chosen for the opening scene of the show because hearing her father play the tune on his saxophone is an actual memory from Chita 's childhood.

The coat that Chita wears in the White House scene is a recreation of the coat she actually wore to the 2002 Kennedy Center Honors, in the identical shade of red.

When Dick Van Dyke joined Chita in the show for four performances during Chita's birthday week, January 24-26, 2006, his appearance was staged and rehearsed by Chita's daughter, Lisa Mordente, along with Lisa's father, Chita's ex-husband, Tony Mordente.

Mark Hummel has known Chita since he conducted Bring Back Birdie in 1981. It was his first Broadway show, and they have worked together ever since. Swing member of the Ensemble, Cleve Asbury, was also in Bring Back Birdie. Orchestrator Danny Troob also worked on Bring Back Birdie.

Danny Troob was to collaborate on the orchestrations for Chita Rivera: the Dancer's Life with the great Michael Gibson, who died before completing the work. Troob dedicates these orchestrations to Mr. Gibson.

Graciela Daniele previously choreographed The Rink for Chita , and played the Hungarian in the original Broadway production of Chicago.

Terrence McNally has penned books for four of Chita 's shows: The Rink, Kiss of the Spider Woman, The Visit, and now Chita Rivera: the Dancer's Life.

Alan Johnson, who recreated Jerome Robbins' choreography for this show, and Tony Stevens, who recreated the Fosse choreography, have both worked with Chita many times before on her cabaret shows.

Dancers Richard Amaro, Lloyd Culbreath, Edgard Gallardo, and Richard Montoya all toured the country with Chita in Chita and All that Jazz, before doing this show.

Dancer Allyson Tucker played Velma Kelly in a Philadelphia production of Chicago ; her performance earned her a Barrymore Award nomination. She is married to Broadway star, Brian Stokes Mitchell.

Ensemble members Lainie Sakakura and Alex Sanchez are a married couple and the parents of toddler Avelina Kiyome Sanchez.


Chita on National Public Radio, Sunday Weekend Edition -- December 11, 2005

It's So Nice to Have Them Back Where They Belong
Published in the New York Times: September 11, 2005


From Rosie O'Donnell's Blog:
November 22, 2005
Posted by ro @ 8:02 pm in love

i spent the last 2 hours
in broadway heaven
watching the gypsy run thru
of chita riveras new show
a dancers life

i cried beginning to end
as she did what only she can
grace joy determination
a living legend
i adore her
so does all of broadway
the mom we wished for
the performer we long to be

go see it
opens dec 11
previews start soon

it was pure bliss

Terrence McNally, quoted by Gerard Raymond in The Advocate, September 13, 2005
"I know Chita very well, so I felt comfortable writing a character called Chita.... At the core of the show is the discipline to which a dancer has to adhere to have a real career in the theater. Chita is committed to live performance, and talking about it becomes a master class in becoming an artist."

Chita at San Diego's Old Globe Theatre


Chita at Broadway's Gerald Schoenfeld Theatre

Terrence McNally, author of
Chita Rivera: the Dancer's Life

Graciela Daniele, director and choreographer of
Chita Rivera: the Dancer's Life


Chita performs "Where You Are" from Kiss of the Spider Woman with Chita Rivera with (l-r) Edgard Gallardo, Alex Sanchez, Lloyd Culbreath, Richard Amaro and Richard Montoya . Photo by Craig Schwartz

Chita claps out the rhythm with Jack Cole who
choreographed her and co-star Alfred Drake in Zenda


Image Courtesy of Craig Schwartz Photography

Chita Rivera: The Dancer's Life

Scenes/Musical Numbers – Featuring Chita Rivera


The evening is divided into thematic sections; Chita talks to the audience about various periods and various aspects of her life.
[The show originally began with the dancers warming up on stage in front of the audience. Places were called; the stage went to black;
the house was darkened. This was cut a few weeks into the Broadway run].

“Perfidia” … with Liana Ortiz, Richard Amaro
Liana Ortiz plays Chita (Conchita Del Rivero) as a child, and Richard Amaro plays her father, in a scene in which Chita recalls her father, a professional musician, playing "Perfidia" for her on the saxophone. Chita lost her father when she was seven years old, and in the dance, he recedes into the wings and young Chita picks up the rhythm in this music in the form of dance. At first, she beats out the rhythm on the floor; gradually, she begins to dance, and using a sequence of signature Chita dance steps, she moves in front of a large screen. Suddenly, she is dancing in front of the shadow of Chita Rivera herself. The screen rises, revealing the legendary star who joyfully dances in pursuit of her father and his saxophone. (On Broadway, the orchestra was placed on scafolding up along the back wall; each instrument in its own compartment. On tour, the orchestra was in the pit and the "young Chita" role was cut).

“Secret o' Life”
Chita is at the White House for the 2002 Kennedy Center Honors, with Tom Richmond as her escort. In awe of her surroundings and this great honor, she begins to reminisce about her life and the path that has brought her to this point. She determines that "The secret of life is enjoying the passage of time."

Chita, "Dancing on the Kitchen Table" with (l-r) Richard Amaro, Richard Montoya (kneeling), Edgard Gallardo, Lainie Sakakura (kneeling), Allyson Tucker, and Malinda Farrington.
Photo by Craig Schwartz

“Dancing on the Kitchen Table”* … with Richard Montoya, Edgard Gallardo, Allyson Tucker, Lainie Sakakura, Malinda Farrington, Richard Amaro
The company joins in an original song by Lynn Ahrens and Stephen Flaherty, depicting life at the Del Rivero family table in Washington, D.C., when Chita was a young child. With Richard Amora as Father; Malinda Farrington as Mother; Richard Montoya as Pedro Julio; Edgard Gallardo as Armando Modesto; Allyson Tucker as Carmen Maria; and Lainie Sakakura as Lola, the children take varing degrees of delight and disapproval as young Chita is "dancing on the kitchen table." When Chita dances so hard that the table breaks, her parents determine that someting must be done. The child is sent to dance class.

"My mother thought that ballet class could transform a young girl's life." And of course she was right. In this scene, with dancers at the barre, Chita recalls that she took ballet class, three times a week, learning discipline under the tutelage of Doris Jones, a dictatorial but inspiring instructor and mentor. "She is with me here tonight." At 17, Chita relates how Miss Jones took her to New York City, where she auditioned for George Balanchine. Noticing that the girl's foot was bleeding through her toe-shoe, the great Balanchine stopped to bandage her injury personally. She was accepted and given a scholarship to his School of American Ballet. Chita recalls how, while studying in New York, she agreed to accompany a friend to an audition for the road company of Call Me Madam, starring Elaine Stritch. Her friend was not hired, but Chita was. This job signalled the end of her career in classical ballet.

“Something to Dance About” (Call Me Madam) … with Richard Montoya
As a young chorine, or "gypsy," Chita tells how she dreamed of getting a "crossover," or a featured bit of dancing or business to do while the scenery is changing. "I would have crawled through broken glass!" She does not get the crossover, but she gets a master class in being on stage from Stritch. "I was terrified of her; I still am!" From Stritch she learns comic timing, precision, and the importance of diction. "Make them hear you!" In Guys and Dolls , she fares better, taking over the part of one of the "Latin Cuties" from Onna White, but she is so nervous on the first night that she grabs her partner's nose instead of his cigar!
“I'm Available” (Mr.Wonderful)
Chita sings a bit of a song she sang in Mr. Wonderful about yearning for fame.
“Camille, Colette, Fifi ” (Seventh Heaven) … with Allyson Tucker, Deidre Goodwin
Chita recreates a number she did in her first show on Broadway. It would not be a hit. It is in this show that she first works with Peter Gennaro; neither dreams there is a West Side Story in their future.
“Garbage” (The Shoestring Revue)
Chita reminisces about working with young Beatrice Arthur. Originally, Bea sang the number while Chita jumped in and out of a garbage bag. For The Dancer's Life, Chita sings the number, "leaving the jumping to our imaginations." The number segues into "Can-Can." (Broadway only)
“Can-Can” (Can-Can) … with Allyson Tucker, Malinda Farrington, Lainie Sakakura, Deidre Goodwin
Life as a gypsy could not be better, as Chita relishes performing in the chorus of Can-Can and living in New York City.
“Mr. Wonderful” (Mr. Wonderful)
Better than a cross-over, during Mr. Wonderful, Chita gets the leading man. She dates Sammy Davis, Jr. and enjoys knowing him before Hollywood and before the Rat Pack. "It was Sammy at the purest expression of himself."

In the making of a star, there is one show that is "the show." For Gwen Verdon it was Can-Can. The turning point in Chita's life is announced with the famed opening phrase of Leonard Bernstein's overture to West Side Story.
“A Boy Like That”
Chita recreates the audition that lands her the job. Finding her audition piece, "My Man's Gone Now," laughable, Bernstein asks her to sing a song from the West Side Story score. He plays the piano and she hears "A Boy Like That" for the first time. After two comic tries, she finally nails the number and wins the role.
On January 14, 2006, Chita's signature number, "America" was added to the show, bolstering the energy of the West Side Story sequence. If West Side Story was the show that made her a star, then Jerome Robbins was the choreographer. "Jerry gave me detail, style, and substance."
“Dance at the Gym” (Mambo) … with Ensemble
Chita describes working with Peter Gennaro. "The Sharks had our own choreographer. Peter Gennaro choreographed every step of "The Dance at the Gym" and "America," and he has never gotten the credit he deserves!"
" Somewhere” with Ensemble

“Put on a Happy Face” (Bye Bye Birdie) … with Lloyd Culbreath
“Rosie” (Bye Bye Birdie) … with Lloyd Culbreath
[Note: On January 24-26, 2006, Dick Van Dyke joined Chita onstage in the show for a Bye Bye Birdie reunion.]
“Big Spender” (Sweet Charity) … with Deidre Goodwin
“Ah Ma” (The Rink) (Broadway only)
“Nowadays” (Chicago)

Each of Chita's co-stars is represented in silhouette during this remarkable section. Dick Van Dyke's voice begins the sequence, singing "Put on a Happy Face." "Is there anyone who doesn't recognize that voice?" asks Chita. [For four performances, January 24-26, 2006, Dick Van Dyke joined Chita on stage.] The sequence includes a sexy reference to Antonio Banderas; affectionate recollections of Brent Carver and Donald O'Connor; and an adoring assessment of Liza Minnelli. It all leads up to an emotionally powerful tribute to Gwen Verdon. "Gwen Verdon was as close as I will ever come to the magic of Charlie Chaplin." In the final section of act one, Chita sings and dances "Nowadays" from Chicago, beside an empty spotlight representing the pointedly absent Verdon, to whom Chita turns when she sings, "but nothing stays." Black out for the end of Act I; the audience is left teary-eyed, but ecstatic.


A reacreation of a dance audition in front of a mirror. Chita is rejected because she is "not Latin enough." The mirror rises and tilts to provide a view from above and, to prove she is "Latin enough," Chita launches into a series of dynamic tangos opposite Richard Amaro. (Broadway only)

Tangos: “Adios Niñino,” “Detresse,” “Calambre” … with Richard Amaro
“More Than You Know” … with the Ensemble

Chita recalls some of her great romances. First to her ex-husband, Tony Mordente -- "The day our daughter Lisa was born was the happiest day of my life; the day we split, the saddest." To Joe Allen, who she nearly married. "To Tony, Tom, Joe, and Greg. And others ... you know who you are!"

Chita and Joe Allen in November 2005

The other men in Chita's life -- choreographers. She pays tribute to the individual talents of Jack Cole, Peter Gennaro, Bob Fosse, and Jerome Robbins, as she and the ensemble demonstrate their styles. We see the shadows of the ensemble crossing from stage right to stage left (which is to say from the audiences left, to the right) in an endless parade, demonstrating the uniquely individual style of each choreographer. At the conclusion, Chita drinks a toasts to the great choreographers and the new ones coming up. Then, seated downstage left, she talks about some of her setbacks -- the automobile accident in which she broke her leg; being passed over for Rita Moreno in the film of West Side Story; Bob Fosse's heart attack. But all in all, she notes, Chita knows she has been very lucky. After all, her leg healed; Fosse recovered, and Chicago got back on track; and Kander & Ebb would write three more shows for her!

“A Woman the World Has Never Seen”*
“Class” (Chicago)
“Chief Cook and Bottle Washer” (The Rink)
“Kiss of the Spider Woman” (Kiss of the Spider Woman)
“Where You Are” (Kiss of the Spider Woman) … with the Ensemble
(Broadway only)
An original song by Lynn Ahrens and Stephen Flaherty serves as a compass to guide Chita through a tour de force of reminiscences of her three great Kander & Ebb Shows. The audience consistently rewards her with a standing ovation.

“All that Jazz” (Chicago) … with Liana Ortiz

Chita pulls it all to conclusion with her signature number. The crowd is on the edge of their seats from the first vamp of the intro. Stating that after all that Broadway has given her, it is time to give back; she performs "All that Jazz," as young Miss Ortiz shadows her. (On tour, Chita performs the number as a solo).


After each member of the ensemble takes an individual curtain call, Chita enters down center stage for an immediate and spontaneous standing ovation.

*original song by Lynn Ahrens and Stephen Flaherty