Chita Rivera

“I’ve always loved a challenge.”

Chita Rivera, American actress, singer and dancer, 1933-present

Playing the very first Anita in Westside Story and Velma Kelly in Chicago, Chita Rivera is an original Broadway star and theatrical icon, known for her vivacious performances. The opening night of Westside Story in London’s West End in 1958 is lauded as the most sensational of the post-war years. Never one to take a step back, the show had been delayed by several months so that Rivera could give birth to her daughter.  

Over her storied career Rivera has received 10 Tony Award nominations, but has only won three, including  a Lifetime Achievement award. In trademark sassy style, she referenced the fact in her cabaret act with a number called “Losing.” In one Tony-winning performance, a critic likened her command of the audience to “a lion tamer with a whip snap in her walk.” The Dancer’s Life was a Broadway musical celebrating her remarkable career.

Born Dolores Conchita Figueroa del Rivero in Washington, D.C.  and raised by a Puerto Rican musician father and Scottish-American mother, Rivera and her brother mounted shows in the family’s basement. She took voice and piano lessons, but dance became her focus, winning her a scholarship to George Balanchine’s School of American Ballet in New York City.

Her first big break on Broadway was in 1953 when she replaced the principal dancer in Guys and Dolls, and she swiftly went on to back-to-back roles, including the electric performance as Anita that was her star turn. Notable roles on Broadway and touring include Rosie in Bye-Bye Birdie.  A 1986 car accident left her with a broken leg and it was thought she would never walk again. However, after rehabilitation she was fit enough to sing on cruise ships.

Back on Broadway, in 1993 she won a Tony Award for Best Performance for her starring role as a sultry film goddess in Kiss of the Spider Woman. In 2009 she was awarded the Presidential Medal of Freedom by President Obama and released a solo album, And Now I Swing.


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