On December 11, 2022, the Segerstrom Center for the Arts presented an afternoon with Broadway icon, Chita Rivera in The Rhythm of My Life. This was a poignant overview through song, dance, and heart. This diminutive powerhouse, at age 89, moved us through her storied life. With such grace, Rivera shared bit of her backstory, an array of memories in song and personal accounts that only she could tell. Her multi-talented daughter Lisa Mordente and special guest, George Dvorsky both helped pace the hour-and-20-minute concert that left all wanting more. Her masterful musicians live onstage were Music Director Michael Croiter (Drums/Guitar); Associate Music Director, Gary Adler (Piano), who would often second, vocally: and Jim Donica (Bass), with Lighting Director, Andrew Fritsch, all illuminated the evening not only with their skillful support, but their collective Broadway spirit.
The overarching motif of the evening is an ode to Chita’s remarkable career and a life well lived. From a darkened stage she appears in a spotlight. Her simple shimmering draped black suit swayed as she makes her way center stage. Reaching out to the audience, her voice slightly tentative with this, her rare appearance. She soon was buoyed by the warmth of the audience’s elation to see her live and in person. Her set began with John Kander and Fred Ebb’s “Isn’t it Great,” (Chicago); a classy slow-building show starter that bridged to one of her signature shows, Tony Award Winning, “Kiss of the Spider Woman.” Each phrase of Where you are, with her impeccable interpretation, made the words come alive… “You’ve got to learn how not to do what you’ve done” dug down into our collective souls. It did not wallow, but simply slipped past over-indulgence and the maudlin. She then skillfully followed with the impish “Got a Lot of Livin’ to do” where she teased the audience with a taste of her brilliant dance past, her hips swaying in her familiar salsa moves.
A perfect segue to a reminder that it was West Side Story’s 65th anniversary; Rivera introduced her reminiscence of Bernstein’s invite “to his place;” an intro to her two angels “The Truth” and “The Imposter;” and a story about how two feisty kids, Chita and Tony Mordente from opposite gangs, fell in love, which bridges seamlessly to the underscore of the familiar vamp of “A Boy Like That.” Deep, rich, with her inimitable pacing, her voice powered through reminding us how it’s supposed to be. This led to, where else? “America.” These familiar strains warmed the fire and we were off on a journey, with her timing and interpretation transporting us to a place of reminiscence, her delivery of each song so uniquely her own.
She brought to life the stories and songs of her old friends and colleagues that read like a who’s who of Musical Theatre; John Kander and Fred Ebb, Leonard Bernstein, Charles Strouse and Lee Adams, Jerry Herman, Stephen Sondheim and Cy Coleman who were mutually inspiring to each other. They saw her and she saw them. She then dedicated an elegant jazz rendition of Where am I going (Sweet Charity) to her friend Cy Coleman.
Before taking a break, she introduced her long-time friend, George Dvorsky, who entertained us with “Sara Lee,” a frolicking Kander and Ebb tune which had been done famously by the young Liza Minelli. Then came a duet with Chita and Dvorsky, You, You, You and Love and Love Alone, from “The Visit”
”Every fond hello, ends in goodbye
What seems certain to live, will die”
One could not forget the artistry in the lyrics and delivery so moving, so stunning.
A particularly touching moment was Chita’s pairing with her “best creation,” her daughter, Lisa Mordente who is herself an accomplished choreographer and performer. Mordente’s loving deference and respect clearly added generational significance that moved and entertained the audience in “Don’t take your love away from me, breakin’ up is hard to do” and Chief Cook and Bottle Washer (The Rink). With Gwen Verdon’s presence never far behind, they grabbed Top Hats and Cane, and dove into “Nowadays,” Isn’t it good, isn’t it Grand from Chicago Combining both their unique energies adding to this wonderful show, making the audience laugh, cry and love again.
A standing ovation would not let that be the end. As an encore, alone on the stage, looking out on so many friends amongst the audience that had made a special trip on a rainy afternoon, Chita began, “Here’s a song for my circle of friends, which just got larger.” It was clear she, and we were moved.
Reminded of one of her moments in this show, from Woman of the Year “I don’t remember you/sometimes a day goes by” …left not a dry eye in the place, hearing those remarkable lyrics; “I don’t remember you, I don’t recall a single thing we used to say or do” clearly reminds us how fleeting life is, and how important our presence is to experience this artful legacy. If Rivera’s “The Rhythm of My Life” comes to a theatre near you…it must be seen before it all goes by.
For more information about Chita Rivera, please visit her official website.
To see the full season line of at The Segerstrom Center for the Arts, please visit their website.
Written by Joanne DiVito for LA Dance Chronicle.
Featured image: Chita Rivera and Company in “The Rhythm of My Life” – Photo by Cheryl Mann