Broadway Celebrates the Legendary Life of Chita Rivera, One of the Most Influential Latinas in American Theater History

Chita Broadway Cares BELatina Latinx
Photo Credit IG @bcefa

Social distancing will not prevent Broadway from giving credit where credit is due.

This Friday, May 29th, Broadway Cares/Equity Fights AIDS will be airing, free of charge, Chita: A Legendary Celebration — a 2013 show that originally premiered at the August Wilson Theatre in New York City. This time around, the show will raise funds to benefit the emergency efforts of Broadway Cares COVID-19. Viewers interested in donating to the relief fund will be given access to exclusive virtual events like private pre-parties, attendance to post-event cocktail parties, and special recognition throughout the event.

The broadcast will feature performances by Rivera, Tommy Tune, and Ben Vereen, remote interviews with the actress, and a video tribute from legendary composer John Kander, according to broadwaycares.com.

“My history with Broadway Cares/Equity Fights AIDS goes back to the beginning,” Rivera said. “I’m overjoyed that this magical evening is being shared with even more people now, and feel so fortunate that this performance will yet again help people in need, especially during this most challenging moment in history.”

Tom Viola, executive director of Broadway Cares, said in a statement: “Since our earliest days, Chita has been one of Broadway Cares’ biggest champions, a true and loyal friend. She has appeared in nearly all of our annual events, signed thousands of posters and Playbills, made audience appeals, worn Easter Bonnets, been immortalized as a holiday ornament, greeted fans at the Broadway Flea Market & Grand Auction, and, through it all, encouraged us because she cares for those who need help most. And that continues today, as she shares her heart and talent virtually with this special stream.”

Born Dolores Conchita Figueroa del Rivero, “Chita” was born in Washington in 1933 to a Puerto Rican father and a mother of Scottish and Italian descent. Her career in show business began at age 15 at the Jones-Haywood School of Ballet (now Jones Haywood School of Dance), whose training allowed her to enter the George Balanchine School of American Ballet in New York, where she attended on a scholarship.

It would be her role in the 1951 play Call Me Madam that would open the doors to other Broadway productions such as Guys and Dolls and Can-Can. But the turning point in her career was marked by her role as Anita in the 1957 classic West Side Story, whose big-screen version would bring stardom to another Puerto Rican: Rita Moreno. 

Bye Bye Birdie, Zenda, The Carol Burnett Show, and eventually the iconic Chicago would be platforms that would lead to her winning her first Tony in 1984 for her role as Anna in the musical The Rink, where she shared the stage with Liza Minnelli.

After a career hiatus in the mid-1990s, Rivera returned to the stage in 2003 as Liliane La Fleur in the revival of Nine, and two years later Broadway would release a career retrospective entitled Chita Rivera: The Dancer’s Life, which would earn her another Tony nomination, this time for her self-representation.

In 2009, President Barack Obama awarded her the Presidential Medal of Freedom, and she is now considered a living legacy of American theater, with more than ten Tony nominations and an honorary doctorate in fine arts from the University of Florida.