Chita Rivera

Chita Rivera

Feinstein’s/54 Below, NYC, May 28, 2019          

Reviewed by Randolph B. Eigenbrode for Cabaret Scenes

Chita Rivera
Photo: Maryann Lopinto

Given her 68 years in the business, what is there left to say about Chita Rivera? Well, from her most recent showing, she’s still got it.

Entering in an eye-popping red sequined pantsuit, Rivera offered those big hits.

Of course, there’s “Kiss of the Spider Woman,” “All That Jazz” (both by John Kander/Fred Ebb), and “America” (Leonard Bernstein/Stephen Sondheim). And on each signature number, Rivera worked the full 180 degrees of the room, her feet finding a staccato rhythm against the melodic strains.

There were some surprises as well. “Chief Cook and Bottle Washer” (Kander & Ebb from The Rink) seems to be remembered only by musical theater devotees, but Rivera polished it off much to the audience’s delight. “Carousel” (Jacques Brel), dressed with her Cheshire Cat smile, built to an understated climax, brimming with manic bite.  She put a jazzy spin on “A Lot of Livin’ to Do” (Lee Adams/Charles Strouse), complete with a full-out dance break. Who knew an 86-year-old could move so effortlessly?

Indeed, Rivera finds a percussive delivery in her physicality as the pieces unfold. A head pop, a shoulder shimmy, or an expressive hand flourish all punctuate the ends of phrases. It’s almost instinct as she moves in tandem with each piece’s rhythm.

It’s perhaps most interesting to witness Rivera handle a ballad. Lest there were any doubts, she tackled “I’m Old-Fashioned” (Jerome Kern/Johnny Mercer) and “Not Exactly Paris” (Michael Leonard/Russell George) like a pro. Each was tinged with personal connection, yet Rivera redirected the focus back at the audience, allowing them to experience the stories. This was most moving in “Where Am I Going?

” (Cy Coleman/Dorothy Fields) which could have easily skewed theatrical. But, in Rivera’s hands, the audience is given the space to journey through the tumult themselves. (Bravo.)

With such a history in performing, there’s nothing like experiencing a legend like Rivera firsthand. Here’s hoping for another 68 years of performances like this!

Randolph B. Eigenbrode

Randolph is the newest addition to the writing staff at Cabaret Scenes. He is a cabaret teacher, previously teaching with legend Erv Raible, and his students have gone on to success in the field with sold-out shows and many awards. He is also a director and that, combined with a knowledge of the art form and techniques that cabaret performing encompasses, makes him love reviewing NYC’s cabaret scene. When not catching the Big Apple’s crazy talent, Randolph loves 1970s variety shows, mall Chinese food, Meryl Streep films and a good cold glass of pinot grigio.