- Chita Rivera was a Broadway legend
- She was known as a Latin icon on stage
- HERE is a look back at her legacy
What a talent she was!. The high-kicking, two-time Tony winner starred in the original productions of 'West Side Story,' 'Bye Bye Birdie,' 'Chicago' and 'Kiss of the Spider Woman.' Broadway is draped in black velvet today as the Great White Way says goodbye to one of its brightest lights, Chita Rivera.
The Tony Award-winning dynamo, known for her electrifying performances and nearly seven-decade-long career, leaves behind a legacy that transformed the theatre world.
Chita set the stage for many others to come after
"It is with immense personal sorrow that I announce the death of the beloved Broadway icon Chita Rivera. My dear friend of over 40 years was 91," Frimark in a statement on Tuesday.
Born to a Puerto Rican father and a mother of Scottish and Irish descent, Rivera's diverse heritage shone through her groundbreaking roles, paving the way for Latina women in the arts.
Rivera’s brother, Julio, remembered that even at a young age, his sister would seize any opportunity to perform. "Chita always had that special quality of attracting attention. She didn’t know it, but the solo spotlight was always on her, even when she appeared in the doorway."
Rivera was also known to roughhouse and could be a bit of a tomboy. She joked during her TheaterMania interview that her mother needed to find some way to vent all that energy. "Bicycles, skates, walking the back fences, climbing the trees … I just broke up all the furniture in the house,” she said. "My mother had to get rid of me. So she put me in dance class."
At 14, Rivera landed a scholarship to The School of American Ballet. While still a teenager, she auditioned for choreographer Jerome Robbins, who hired her as a principal dancer in the 1952 road company of Irving Berlin’s 'Call Me Madam'.
Figuring that Dolores Conchita Figueroa del Rivero was too much for any marquee, she shortened her name to Conchita del Rivero. Three years later, she tightened it even more. "Chita Rivero doesn’t sound as good as Chita Rivera," she said.
Rivera, a name synonymous with Broadway royalty, originated the role of "Anita" in 'West Side Story' in 1957, setting the stage for a career that would see her name in lights for generations. The stage siren's most iconic roles also included "Velma" in 'Chicago' and "Rose" in 'Bye Bye Birdie,' captivating audiences with her unmatched talent and fiery spirit.
The tributes are pouring in like a standing ovation, with Rita Moreno, the silver screen's Anita from 1961, toasting to "the essence of Broadway." Lin-Manuel Miranda, the genius behind 'Hamilton,' hailed her as a "trailblazer," while Sir Andrew Lloyd Webber proclaimed she "redefined the words 'theatrical legend.'"
Her triple-threat prowess – singing, dancing, and acting – was unmatched, and her last Broadway bow came in 2015 with "The Visit."
Hollywood's own Catherine Zeta-Jones, who snagged an Oscar for her portrayal of Velma Kelly, shared a heartwarming tribute, calling Rivera an inspiration and suggesting that Broadway "just plug the plug" in her honor.
"When she let those limbs loose she was a one-woman showstopper, and every choreographer wanted her," 'West Side Story' producer Harold Prince said. "There is nobody who can dance, sing and act like Chita Rivera."
Ariana DeBose remembered Rivera on social media, writing, "She was a force. In truth she made me nervous. To be in her presence was to behold greatness. I always got the sense that she had great expectations, but none greater than the ones she held herself to…I am heartbroken and yet ever inspired as she showed so many of us what was possible. Rest well Queen."
And the tributes are bound to keep pouring in for one of the greatest entertainers of all time.
Rivera's accolades include two Tony Awards, a Presidential Medal of Freedom, and the distinction of being the first Latina to receive Kennedy Center Honors. Her autobiography, 'Chita: A Memoir,' danced its way onto the 'New York Times' bestseller list, ensuring her story will inspire dreamers for years to come.
As the curtain closes on Chita Rivera's final act, the lights on Broadway may dim, but her star will forever shine in the theatre's celestial canopy. Rest in peace, Chita, Broadway's eternal leading lady.