The iconic Chita Rivera delivered sparks of magic at Segerstrom

Chita Rivera, Broadway’s most popular triple threat, is a dancer at heart.

Her path to fame began as a traveling choir member. The expressiveness of her moves revealed a natural talent for acting, and it didn’t take long for her staff to convince her that her singing voice was good enough for the limelight.

But for all her virtuosity, it was her inner light that distinguished her. Her characters have a way of deepening audiences’ appreciation for human comedy. Matching every musical insanity, she can overshadow even the smallest silliness with an air of lived truth.

Seeing Rivera in motion is like instantly falling under her spell. When she looked back on her career in her 2005 Broadway revue, the show’s title was Chita Rivera: The Dancer’s Life – for her, life and dance are almost interchangeable.

A career-threatening car accident in 1986 didn’t stop her from hypnotizing with her rehabilitated legs in “Can-Can.” But time is a force that not even the most physically gifted Broadway legend can overcome.

At 89, Rivera’s choreography is limited to her hands and torso. Getting up on a stool is an opportunity for Deadpan. But when she moves and sings more gently than before, her stage aura is unbroken.

In “Chita: The Rhythm of My Life,” a cabaret she performed Sunday at the Renée and Henry Segerstrom Concert Hall at the Segerstrom Center for the Arts, she ignited enough magical sparks to make the show an affectionate get-together for her make fans.

Rivera is a diva in stature but not in temperament. Her manner radiates warmth and gratitude. She appreciates the special connection to her audience, which she counts among her “circle of friends”.

There is no pretense in their pizzazz. She entertains by lifting up. The short stories she shared on Sunday were about artists who graced her path. When her phone rang and she was offered the chance to work with a big girl, Rivera said yes, even if it meant playing her mother instead of Liza Minnelli’s girlfriend.

A medley of songs from West Side Story, the show that catapulted Rivera to fame, brought her back 65 years to working with Leonard Bernstein, whose brilliance and beauty still amaze her. Rivera revealed that she had married fellow cast member Tony Mordente, despite him playing a jet, and as Anita, as a shark, she was barred from fraternizing with these rival gang actors.

Daughter Lisa Mordente was invited onstage to perform with her mother in a duet on the John Kander-Fred Ebb number “Class” from “Chicago.” Rivera gleefully recalled matinee ladies tsking at the song’s slightly naughty lyrics.

Rivera relied on her daughter and singer George Dvorsky to fill out the show. But the performance might have been stronger had it opted for a more intimate tête-à-tête with the audience.

Mordente’s rendition of the Neil Sedaka hit “Breaking Up Is Hard to Do” wasn’t particularly secure, and Dvorsky’s handling of the Kander and Ebb novelty song “Sara Lee,” a paean to richly greasy desserts, seemed a little off left field . Mordente later compensated with a grandiose impersonation of Gwen Verdon, her mother’s partner in Chicago, and Dvorsky put his powerful voice at the service of an icon. But Rivera was what we wanted to see and hear.

Kander and Ebb were of course prominent on the setlist. Her musicals have been inspired in part by Rivera’s diverse talents, and she has achieved some of her greatest triumphs in her shows. “Chicago” of course, which not only provided her with an ideal dance partner in Verdon, but also in Bob Fosse, whose choreographic vocabulary became perfectly fluid when translated by Rivera’s body.

Rivera won Tony Awards for her performance in Kander and Ebbs’ The Rink and Kiss of the Spider Woman. She performed songs from those shows, as well as from Kander and Ebb’s “The Visit,” from which she sang the most haunting number of the concert, “Love and Love Alone.”

The song deals with the changes of time that are so acutely experienced in the Romantic era. A melancholy appreciation of this reality, generous enough to cling to good in the face of inevitable losses, characterized Rivera’s attitude not only to these lyrics but also to her own longevity as a performer.

Yet how the years unravel as the pulse-pounding tones of “All That Jazz” race up and down their spines. Under the musical direction of Michael Croiter and the amicable piano accompaniment of Gary Adler, this Kander and Ebb classic once again fills a room with a timeless Rivera that inspires hope that some joys may indeed live forever. The iconic Chita Rivera delivered sparks of magic at Segerstrom

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