Leave it to Chita Rivera to share the spotlight in a show about her own career. Arguably musical theatre's greatest living performer, she spends most of The Dancer's Life singing and dancing the praises of others.
But when you think of it, Chita Rivera is not your typical Broadway legend. Sure, her ability to communicate character and emotion through the finest work of some of Broadway's greatest choreographers, matched with strong, perfectly phrased vocals that shimmer with nuance earn her a place among musical theatre's greatest. And yet she's never had a Broadway musical built around her talents. No Gypsy, South Pacific, Hello Dolly! or Redhead for Chita Rivera. From West Side Story to Bye, Bye, Birdie to Chicago and beyond, her Broadway career has been that of a co-star. Even in The Rink, for which she won her first Tony, her role was no larger than that of the more famous Liza Minnelli. And though she was undoubtedly the star of Kiss of the Spider Woman, her second Tony-winning role, she was an above-the-title star playing a supporting character.
Her reputation is that of a hard worker and an expert at her craft who keeps herself free of scandal, in top condition and can always be depended upon to give an opening night quality performance even when the house is half-filled and she's a year into the run. And that's the Chita Rivera we see on stage in The Dancer's Life. Sure, there's been heartbreak and romance, but if she doesn't want to talk about it in public, that's her business. If you want to learn about what happened behind closed doors, this is not the show for you. If you want to learn from the best about what it's like to rise from the chorus into stardom and to continually strive to deliver the kind of performance that is worthy of the creators' work and the audience's presence, then don't miss Professor Rivera's Master Class.
The importance of teaching and the willingness to always be learning is the dominating theme of Ms. Rivera's show, as scripted by Terrance McNally and directed by Graciela Daniele. The opening image is that of a young Chita (Liana Ortiz) listening to her father playing the saxophone and being inspired to move. After a catchy new Lynn Ahrens and Stephen Flaherty tune where Rivera explains how her mother sent her to ballet class to keep the hyper-active kid from destroying the furniture, we're introduced to her first teacher; a stern instructor who instilled the child with discipline and a love for dance. As the teenage Rivera joins the ranks of Broadway gypsies, her teachers become more famous. She learns comic timing from Elaine Stritch, gets good career advice from Gwen Verdon and learns how dance is a form of drama from Jerome Robbins.
After 20-odd years singing, dancing and acting in dinner theatres, summer stocks and the ever-popular audience participation murder mysteries (try improvising with audiences after they?ve had two hours of open bar), Michael Dale segued his theatrical ambitions into playwriting. The buildings which once housed the 5 Off-Off Broadway plays he penned have all been destroyed or turned into a Starbucks, but his name remains the answer to the trivia question, "Who wrote the official play of Babe Ruth's 100th Birthday?" He served as Artistic Director for The Play's The Thing Theatre Company, helping to bring free live theatre to underserved communities, and dabbled a bit in stage managing and in directing cabaret shows before answering the call (it was an email, actually) to become BroadwayWorld.com's first Chief Theatre Critic. While not attending shows Michael can be seen at Citi Field pleading for the Mets to stop imploding. Likes: Strong book musicals and ambitious new works. Dislikes: Unprepared celebrities making their stage acting debuts by starring on Broadway and weak bullpens. |