While Rivera could be resting on her laurels, next month, the two-time Tony Award-winning star travels to London with that same phenomenal act for a brief run as part of the new Feinstein's at the Shaw Theatre series, before returning home to prepare for her starring role alongside George Hearn in The Visit, John Kander and Fred Ebb's musical version of Freidrich Durenmatt's classic drama, to run May 13-June 22 at the Signature Theatre in Arlington, Virginia. TheaterMania recently chatted with the irrepressible Rivera about these exciting projects.
THEATERMANIA: You're so generous with giving your time to Broadway Cares/Equity Fight AIDS. Why?
CHITA RIVERA: It's totally necessary. I lost too many friends too early in life, so we've got to raise as much money as we can to fight this disease. When I was sitting in my suite at the Regency Hotel while I was performing at Feinstein's during the strike -- which could not have come at a worse time for the collection for their funds -- we just came up with the idea of doing a Broadway Cares benefit. I love Feinstein's. It's a very elegant room and they treat me beautifully, but my audience is a lot of kids who can't afford those prices and that bothered me. I want to play for my peers and for those young kids, so they can learn from me. I want them to see that if they do it right and for the right reason -- for one's art and to entertain others -- you can last a good long time in this business.
TM: You also helped raise a lot of money for Broadway Cares by being part of the 50th anniversary celebration of West Side Story at Gypsy of the Year. That must have been an amazing experience.
CR: It was so magnificent for us; we were so blessed to have that gift. In this business, you seldom get to revisit those great moments in your life, but to get to do it with West Side was mind-boggling. To see Reri Grist's face as she sang "Somewhere" on stage -- since she was always just in the pit -- was so wonderful, as was being on stage with my ex- husband Tony Mordente, and Grover Dale, and Mickey Calin. Everyone looked so good! And I could've been wailing when our daughter Lisa was dancing beside me. But she just said "Hi mommy," and that was it.
TM: The act you're doing at Birdland and Feinstein's at the Shaw is a great retrospective of your career. How did it come about? CR: The whole act was arranged by Mark Hummel, who is my longtime musical director, but who couldn't be with me for those shows. And I am so glad someone suggested my working with Carmel Dean. She's the first woman musical director I've worked with -- I like my men -- but she's a delicious person and a great musician. For these new shows, she has suggested I do one new song than I did at Feinstein's, because we had nothing from Bye Bye Birdie! So we're going to do a medley that starts as a take-off on "The Telephone Hour" and then goes into other songs from that show, like "Put on a Happy Face," and "How Lovely to Be A Woman." Can you imagine, at my age I'm singing "the wait was well worthwhile." I think doing these lyrics now are really funny!
TM: Do you have a favorite song in the act?
CR: I really like this song that Mark found for me, James Taylor's "Secret of Life," To sing it now really has a lot of meaning for me. And there's nothing better than "A Woman the World Has Never Seen," which Lynn Ahrens and Steve Flaherty wrote for my show The Dancer's Life, about all my life and my characters. It's just the right length, without too much of "I did this and then I did that," which I hate. And it does explain what happened in my life in a very personal way.
TM: Are you looking forward to going to London? Are the audiences different there than in America?
CR: I will go to London at a drop of a hat. I'm just sorry I have to come right back -- because I have a reading for The Visit. I do know when you play London, they really listen. The audiences know what they're going to see and they know who's there on stage. They don't jump up and give standing ovations, like we do, but that doesn't mean that they haven't had a brilliant time.
TM: You're finally getting to do Claire in The Visit again. How important is that show to you?
CR: It's funny. I am finally finding that doing seven and eight shows a week takes a lot out of me. It's not because of a lack of energy. It's just I want more out of life now; when you're doing a show, you can't drink until Sunday night or eat a whole bowl of rice and beans. But I just think Freddy and John wrote a beautiful score; and more importantly, it's an original musical, and we need more original musicals. And I love that it's dark and daring and courageous, that it's not just lollipops and moonbeams. My challenge is to make this not a play about revenge, but about a love affair between two people. Claire is doing what she's doing because of love. Plus, I have two eunuchs in the show. I'll take that every time.
TM: You worked with Fred Ebb on so many shows. Can you tell me one really special memory?
CR: Nobody could do special material as brilliantly as Freddie did. He wrote this one song for me called "Losing," after I had lost the Tony Awards four times. It's so funny. I am teaching my boys in the act the etiquette for losing an award -- what you do and what you don't. You do say congratulations and I'm so happy for you, and you don't stand on a chair and grab the Tony as the winner walks by. I really do believe in laughing; you always have to keep sense of humor. But when I finally won (for The Rink), I realized I didn't know if I wanted the Tony as much as I wanted to keep that material. Even today, my two Tonys are in the cabinet, and I am not getting anything out of them the way I did that song!