Chita Rivera: An Evening of My Favorite Songs

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Chita Rivera

An Evening of My Favorite Songs

Café Carlyle, NYC,  April 19, 2016

Reviewed by Elizabeth Ahlfors for Cabaret Scenes

Photo: Laura Marie Duncan
Photo: Laura Marie Duncan

“I have trouble standing still,” said Chita Rivera, and that was just fine with her opening night audience at Café Carlyle. At age 83, Rivera can still do it all—sing, dance, and act—unwavering energy infusing her theatricality with humor and plenty of rhythm.

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“When you move, your body and your spirit get to know each other.” 

An Evening of My Favorite Songs is a gift of Rivera’s expressive musicality and fierce determination as she revisits some of the legends she’s worked with, telling the stories behind the songs. Leonard Bernstein invited her to sit next to him at his piano as he introduced her to her songs for the role of dynamic Anita in West Side Story, the show that rocketed her career. When Rivera told Gwen Verdon she could never step into her shoes, Verdon replied, “Bring your own shoes,”  words Rivera remembered when she co-starred with Verdon in Chicago. She has danced with Bob Fosse and Antonio Banderas, but cherishes a sweet spot for Dick Van Dyke in Bye Bye Birdie. And just watch how she works the tiny Café Carlyle stage with her song from The Rink, “Chief Cook and Bottle Washer.”

Her playlist of songs is a throwback to the Golden Age of Musicals and that playlist continues. Rivera includes two poignant ballads, “Winter” and “Love and Love Alone,” from John Kander and Fred Ebb’s The Visit, which was on Broadway last year, with her starring. 

If her voice is somewhat craggy, it is also amazingly secure. Dramatically she dives into a song’s lyrics and squeezes out every drop of spirit and soul. “Not Exactly Paris” (Michael Leonard and Russell George) is a insinuating might-have-been memory. A highlight is her theatrical rendition of Jacques Brel’s “Carousel” (English translation by Eric Blau), her arms gracefully tracing the relentless acceleration that drives the music box waltz into a Mardi Gras of madness.

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With a flavorful band led by Musical Director Michael Croiter on guitar and percussion, pianist Michael Patrick Walker, Jim Donica on bass and Dan Willis on reeds, Chita Rivera presents a lasting gift to the Café Carlyle.

Elizabeth Ahlfors

Born and raised in New York, Elizabeth graduated from NYU with a degree in Journalism. She has lived in various cities and countries and now is back in NYC. She has written magazine articles and published three books: A Housewife’s Guide to Women’s Liberation, Twelve American Women, and Heroines of ’76 (for children). A great love was always music and theater—in the audience, not performing. A Philadelphia correspondent for and InTheatre Magazine, she has reviewed theater and cabaret for the Philadelphia Inquirer and Philadelphia City News. She writes for Cabaret Scenes and other cabaret/theater sites. She is a judge for Nightlife Awards and a voting member of Drama Desk and Outer Critics Circle.