Broadway Icon Chita Rivera Passes Away at 91

Broadway Icon Chita Rivera Passes Away at 91

Chita Rivera, the legendary Broadway performer celebrated for her two Tony Awards and iconic roles in productions like "West Side Story" and "Chicago," has passed away at the age of 91. The news of her death was confirmed by her publicist, citing a brief illness as the cause.

Rivera's remarkable career left an indelible mark on the world of theater. Born as Dolores Conchita Figueroa del Rivero in Washington, D.C., she embarked on her journey in the world of dance at the age of 11. After the death of her father, her mother, driven by a desire to direct Rivera's energy, enrolled her in ballet school. This decision set the stage for a prolific career that would span over several decades.

The Broadway luminary gained prominence in 1957 when she originated the role of Anita in the groundbreaking production of "West Side Story." Directed and choreographed by Jerome Robbins, the musical reimagined "Romeo and Juliet" in a gritty, urban setting, complete with a jazzy score and modern, streetwise characters. Rivera's portrayal of Anita, Maria's best friend and Bernardo's girlfriend, captivated audiences and showcased her vibrant talent.

In a career filled with achievements, Rivera's versatility shone through as she took on various roles, earning her first Tony nomination for her part in "Bye Bye Birdie" after her success in "West Side Story." Subsequent starring roles in productions like "Bajour," "Born Yesterday," "The Rose Tattoo," and "Kiss Me Kate" further solidified her status as a Broadway sensation.

However, in 1986, Rivera faced a significant setback when a car accident resulted in her leg being broken in 12 places. Many thought this could be the end of her illustrious career, but Rivera, a true trouper, defied the odds. Her triumphant return to Broadway came in 1993 with "Kiss of the Spider Woman," a testament to her resilience and dedication to her craft.

Her collaboration with renowned artists like composer and lyricist John Kander, Fred Ebb, and librettist Terrence McNally continued to bear fruit. In 1984, she starred in "The Rink," earning her first Tony Award for leading actress in a musical. The creative team's magic repeated itself in 1993 with "Kiss of the Spider Woman," garnering Rivera her second Tony in the same category.

Rivera's impact wasn't confined to the stage. She made a rare transition to the screen in 1969, reprising her role as Nickie in the film adaptation of "Sweet Charity." Her influence reached television as well, with recurring roles in "The New Dick Van Dyke Show" during the 1973-74 season and appearances in "Will & Grace" and "Submissions Only."

The Broadway legend's commitment to her craft was evident throughout her career, culminating in a retrospective of her life titled "Chita Rivera: A Dancer’s Life" in 2005. This three-month Broadway run delved into her journey, showcasing her dedication, technique, and the infectious pleasure she derived from her art.

In 2012, Rivera returned to Broadway, playing the Princess Puffer in a revival of "The Mystery of Edwin Drood." Two years later, she starred as the world’s richest woman in a revival of Kander and Ebb musical "The Visit." Speaking of her enduring love for musicals, she expressed, "It takes an audience many places; it’s rich. I like rich."

Rivera's contributions were duly recognized with the Kennedy Center Honors in 2002 and the Presidential Medal of Freedom in 2009. Beyond her achievements and accolades, her legacy lives on through her daughter, Lisa Mordente, a singer-dancer-choreographer from her marriage to "West Side Story" co-star Tony Mordente.

As news of Chita Rivera's passing reverberates through the Broadway community and beyond, tributes pour in for a trailblazer who not only danced through the ages but also left an indomitable imprint on the world of performing arts. Her infectious charisma, unparalleled technique, and unwavering commitment to her craft ensure that Chita Rivera's influence will endure for generations to come.

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