The Queen of Broadway: Q&A with Chita Rivera

The name Chita Rivera remains the stuff of legends on Broadway. The world-famous danger, singer and actress has originated several iconic roles, including Anita in “West Side Story,” Velma in “Chicago” and Rose in “Bye Bye Birdie,” which has earned her two Tonys and eight more nominations. On top of that, she has continued to draw audiences throughout her more than 60-year career.

Preparing for her show at The Smith Center on April 30 – where she will share thrilling stories of her career and perform her favorite tunes alongside SiriusXM host Seth Rudetsky – Rivera has offered a few insights below from her many years in the spotlight.

  1. What has been the key to earning so many leading roles on Broadway?

I think a lot of it is being right for the part, being lucky, being there at the right time, being prepared and it just being meant to be. I tell the kids they’ve got to be prepared and available, and certainly dedicated.

  1. When you originate a role on Broadway, do you have much say in interpreting the part?

No. It all comes from the director and the creative team. Casting is a lot of it. They know what they want, they know what they want to do — you come along, and if you’re right for it, they choose you. You are then their vessel, and they mold you the way it has to be. But you’ve got to follow your director, you don’t direct yourself.

  1. When you have worked on original productions like “Chicago” and “West Side Story,” did you know at the time these shows would be so successful?

Not at all. It was a job and it was exciting to do the material, you knew the material was wonderful to do. I don’t want it to sound like it’s just a job, because it’s not. To be able to interpret the wonderful stories that you get and the great choreography, it’s all about enjoying it and learning as you go along. You have absolutely no idea whether something is going to make it or not. You just know the more you rehearse, the more exciting it can be.

  1. What is it like working with so many iconic figures on Broadway?

They were really extraordinary people, Leonard Bernstein, Jerome Robbins, Michael Kidd and Jack Cole. I have millions of stories. They were all constructive and it ended up if you did as you were told, if you were lucky enough, they informed who you were going to be.

  1. Do you have any secrets for maintaining a Broadway career?

I think you have to love what you do and have a passion for it. You have to want to learn and want to tell these stories. And you have to want to share the space and the magic with other performers. It’s a wonderful place to be, the theater, because you learn an awful lot about yourself. And when you’ve worked with people like Liza Minnelli and Dick van Dyke, what’s there not to love?

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