By Brian Scott Lipton
Strong of voice, fleet of foot, warm of heart, these words have applied to Chita Rivera for more than 60 years – and they still fit the performer to a T. So why did it take her 83 years to get to Carnegie Hall? Lord knows, she didn’t need the practice – as she proved in spades with her wonderful concert “Chita…Nowadays” on Monday, November 7.
While the 90-minute show was essentially a variation of the nightclub act that Rivera has performed the past several years at Feinstein’s at the Regency, Birdland, Cafe Carlyle, and even on Broadway for her 80th birthday, nothing about it – or its star – seemed the least bit tired. Both were fresh, fabulous, utterly invigorating and truly inspirational.
Working her way swiftly and smartly though a non-chronological tour of her celebrated Broadway career – with a slight detour here and there – Rivera wowed the crowd with some of her signature tunes: the feisty “Chief Cook and Bottle Washer” (from “The Rink”); a sultry “All That Jazz” (from “Chicago”); the stunning ballad “Love and Love Alone” (from “The Visit”): a poignant “Where Am I Going?” (from “Sweet Charity”); and a marvelous medley from “Kiss of the Spider Woman,” including the haunting title tune.
As amazing as Rivera is on her own, the evening benefited from a raft of carefully chosen male guest stars. The hunkalicious Andy Karl (soon to return to Broadway in “Groundhog Day”) was the perfect partner for Rivera as she revisited two classic numbers from “Bye Bye Birdie”: the rousing “A Lot of Livin’ to Do” and the romantic “Rosie.” The ever-delightful Alan Cumming proved to be a great sport duetting with Rivera in two typically female roles in “The Apple Doesn’t Fall (Very Far from the Tree)” (from “The Rink”) and “Nowadays” (from “Chicago”). The current star of “Hamilton,” Javier Munoz, showed up to rap a bit of “America” (from “West Side Story”) before helping to lead the New York City Gay Men’s Chorus in a gorgeous rendition of that show’s tearjerker, “Somewhere”.
Still, it was two other men, not from the theatrical world, who made even stronger impressions. The great classical violinist Itzhak Perlman’s superb string playing added yet another dimension to Rivera’s spellbinding version of Jacques Brel’s dizzying “Carousel” and rock guitarist (and erstwhile “Sopranos” star Steven Van Zandt) added just the right amount of oomph to James Taylor’s gently philosophical “Secret of Life” to make that song come completely alive.
To use a lyric from that song (one of my longtime personal favorites); there can be little question that Rivera has “enjoyed the ride” which has taken her from bit parts on Broadway to being a Kennedy Center honoree and the embodiment of the phrase “living legend.” We’re just very lucky she has let us go along with her!
Chita…Nowadays played Carnegie Hall on Monday, November 7 at 8pm.