The legend returns...
Words William J Connolly
Tonight, tonight... (sorry, we couldn’t resist) we welcome one of the greatest stars in history to the stage here at Cadogan Hall. From her star turn in Chicago to her legendary dazzle in West Side Story, there’s little Chita Rivera has taken on that hasn’t turned into a piece of theatrical history. But when you’ve a songbook catalogue taller than you, what do you sing? Well a little bit of everything obviously.
You’re here! Welcome back to London...
Oh my God! It’s my favourite place in the whole world. I love England and I was introduced to London at a wonderful, wonderful time with a wonderful project. I was just talking to a great friend of mine and pulled out a stinky cheese after dinner. It was brie and I thought about my darling friend Dr Patrick Woodcock who introduced me to the most amazing and best parties in the whole world here. He introduced me to Sir Laurence Olivier, John Gielgud, and I I was in London of course for West Side Story. It was a great, great time and it’s as fresh today as it was... I’m afraid to say how many years.
Just a couple...
A couple?! I totally agree! Actually, Leonard Bernstein would be 100 this year.
Oh my God!
I got an ‘oh my God’ out of you! It brought back such amazing memories of being and living in London. Yes, I would like to be 30 years younger but I wouldn’t give up this time for anything!
So for the three people who have been living under a rock, how would you describe who Chita Rivera is?
Crazy. First of all crazy, you have to be crazy to exist. You have to be crazy to open up to the lives of others. I’m honest, straightforward, I love to laugh more than anything. I love understanding and listening to the lives of others – as long as they’re not self indulgent as that’ll piss me off! I love the theatre and I really love life.
Speaking of theatre, when Club 11 came calling about performing here, did you snatch the opportunity?
Why wouldn’t I want to come back to a place that has such great memories?! I still have friends in London and I literally jumped!
Chatting with you for five minutes, I can vouch you love to laugh. When people come and see you live, either here or when you’re on Broadway, does that playfulness stay?
Erm yeah... I hope so. I hope it reminds them of certain things in their lives. I’m very serious on certain subjects. Pain for pain, joy for joy. There’s always a way to get out of anything painful and the last show I did, a couple of years ago, called ‘The Visit’ on Broadway; that’s a dark
show, but you have to know that dark in order to find the light and understand that we all go through that, and even in a show when it’s that dark I try to find light for me and others.
You are an icon and the awards and accolades you’ve received support that. Does it ever become ‘normal’ to have audiences across the world adore you in the ways they do?
Oh no, it never becomes normal. You’re scared to death it’s not going to happen. Fortunately, I have in my background those iconic shows I was lucky enough to be part of – and it is luck. It’s luck to be there when Bob Fosse says they want you for Chicago, and to be there when Leonard Bernstein wants you to do West Side Story plus Bye Bye Birdie and Spiderwoman. Those shows are still running, you can still talk about them, they’re subject matters that are unfortunately – like West Side – still present. It never becomes normal but richer the older it gets. I enjoy talking to the kids about them.
Have you ever seen anybody in costume or drag as you?
Oh yeah, I sure have. I have laughed. It’s an honour, a great honour because it’s fun.
You received the Presidential Medal of Freedom from President Barack Obama in 2009. What was that moment like?
I make a joke about a lot of things to make it palatable. A moment like that is so out of the ordinary that you feel lucky. I’m not taking anything from myself, I’m dedicated, I will work my ass off for you and I love it. To be chosen is extraordinary. It could so easily have been somebody else, it wasn’t, it was me and so I’m crazy about it – and the two of them! I’ve been to The White House several times. Obama? I have this picture of him putting the medal around my neck and there are only two words you can say and... I’m close to tears now thinking about it and I’ll cry any minute. They make it easy for you as they’re good people and know how you feel. I was thrilled my family could be there. I’m from DC so to look down that pond and see the Washington Monument, to see where my dad used to take us and run around and be kids. To know dad – who is gone, as it my mother – how proud they’d would be...
Gosh, bless you.
I don’t have them (my awards) at the front door but when you walk around the house.
Kate Winslet famously has her Oscar in the downstairs toilet.
That is so cute!
With your Tony’s and the rest, would you even have enough toilets in your house for them?
That’s funny! I’ve got one, two, three toilets and I’ve never thought about putting them in there. I’ve got three on my fireplace and I had them around the house. If you see it, you see it, but that’s funny she Kate Winslet) puts it there. I just don’t think I’d like to say that I put my award in the toilet!
Is your art and work influenced by the political rhetoric coming out of the USA?
You kind of have to be a little be careful, but honest about how you feel. I’m embarrassed, I’m not happy with him (Trump) at all representing me and my country. If you really catch me in my living room, you’d hear me use a different kind of language. What I am willing to say now is that I hope he’s not around very long representing us. Anything more would be a waste of time. I can’t believe he’s even there!
And speaking out about your own thoughts and values is an important today as it ever has been.
Absolutely! I just can't believe it. It’s something we don’t quite understand how it even happened. Who the hell did this?! It really does scare me about the way the mentality of some of our Americans. What were they thinking of?!
I imagine the rightful shift of women within the arts and entertainment industry is also something you welcome?
Yes! Sometimes things happen when they’re supposed to happen. You’re responsible to be ready for when it does and pushing it in the right direction. The #MeToo thing is a long conversation as I’m so curious about people jumping onboard, the wrong people taking advantage of situations. It’s about time we did have more directors, producers but we don’t want to lose our femininity either. I love the male, but if there’s such a thing as coming back, I want to come back as a woman. I think we’re rich, strong, we can take it and come back, we produce and it’s fabulous being a woman. We’re patience and, at times, very rich as females.
There’s been a sequel or remake of most things nowadays – many of which you’ve been apart of. How do you feel about them remaking West Side Story or anything similar?
Now I’ll tell you that they’re going to do that, West Side Story – you know that, right? Steven Spielberg. I have to say that, when you attach his name to it, I’m looking forward to it as long as they have that music. On the other hand, this is a story that’s lasted for so many years. There’s still these prejudices and confrontations so there’s still room for that story. Maybe told in another way? But Steven’s name on it and I want to see what he does with it. It’s hard to hear that music and not see those boys fly through the air.
What was it like working with Liza Minnelli and Judy Garland?
Ahhh... it was too good to be true! I kept pinching myself. That song, If My Friends Could See Me Now, boy does it fit. I loved her (Judy Garland) and flipped to be singing with her. She stimulates you. Good company is good and I loved doing The Rink with Liza. We did that together and there were a couple of times I’d look at her and start to chuckle. She’d ask what’s wrong and I’d say, ‘I’m playing your mother. This is funny!’ It was great.
You used the word crazy in the right way because some things are so fabulous and so big that you can’t find another word for fabulous, so you go ‘crazy’. It’s crazy!
And finally, what will your show here at Cadogan Hall give this waiting London audience?
I hope they get a friend. Somebody they can relate with. Somebody that can spread a lot of good memories. Somebody that comes from a time they can relate to the joy, the fun and sharing my life with them will be satisfying. I want them to have a fulfilled evening. I hope they laugh, hear interesting stories and maybe music they know. I hope they have a good time, that’s all! A good time.
And a good laugh if you’re around!
A good laugh, yes. A good ol’ laugh.