Chita : a memoir

Years ago, there was an advertisement for fur, “What Becomes a Legend Most?” For Dolores Conchita Figueroa del Rivero Anderson, best known as Chita Rivera, this razzle-dazzle memoir/autobiography is far more becoming than all the high-end luxury goodies that money can buy.  Hardworking, full of energy and talent, she cut a big wide swath in the entertainment world: predominantly live theater, but also movies and television. There are a few basic facts about her theatrical career and contritubtions that need to be acknowledged. In the following musicals Chita was the original star who created the singing, dancing and acting personas for:  Anita in West Side Story; Velma Kelly in Chicago; Spider Woman in Kiss of the Spider Woman; Rose Alvarez in Bye Bye Birdie; and she created her own one-woman shows. 

She regales us with her early life and that of her family and the ethnic mix of her family's background. Looking back at her young rambunctious childhood, Chita realizes that she always had a strong personality and artistic side. Her professional life was performing during live theater's golden days, its slumps and its resurgence. We get to know how a production grows, evolves, often overcoming the negative critical reviews and the naysayers among producers, directors, and others. In recounting how a live production grows, she brings us up close to how, in different ways, directors, clothing, scenic and lighting designers help a performer develop and flesh out their character.

There are also her candid stories about many well-known people, including her love affairs with several, but she does it with class and a lot of heart. And, Chita has a great big heart and just as much compassion, plus personal experience and knowledge about showbiz which enabled her to understand what it was like for Liza Minelli to be the daughter of Judy Garland. Two performers, who happened to be mother and daughter, with lots of talent and lots of psychological baggage. Bob Fosse was another multi-talented, multi-troubled dancer, choreographer and director who Chita worked with, and pays homage to. It took a while for Chita to have a great big heart for herself, to connect and recognize her own talent and let it burst through on the stage. 

As the years went by, she had a coterie of friends and supporters who were in the business, upon whom she could depend, and they could depend on her, and it was a who’s who of creative people (Gwen Verdon, Fred Webb, John Kander, Leonard Bernstein, Sammy Davis Jr., Bea Arthur, and …). It takes a remarkable personality to withstand the slings, arrows and accolades that get thrown at performers. 

Her marvelous sense of humor shines through in her awareness of who she was and who she could be.  There are many one-line zingers that she leveled at the unprepared person who said something preposterous or discriminatory. In describing past incidents she will write what Dolores, her alter ego, was thinking and might have said. Usually, it is Chita, the more temperate one, who speaks up. Both parts of her personality, Dolores and Chita often mentally duke it out about ethics and religion because both of them are Roman Catholic. But when Dolores lets loose, watch out! Chita is proud of the ethnic mix of her family, especially her Puerto Rican roots and culture. Chita recognizes discrmination--unequal and unfair treatment based on race, religion, gender, ethnicity.

In her performances Chita Rivera has thrilled and delighted thousands of people, and she has equaled that in this joyful memoir.