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The Mystery of Edwin Drood - Broadway

Chita Rivera stars in the Broadway revival of Rupert Holmes' musical comedy.

Drood Star Chita Rivera on West Side Story, Chicago, Playing Liza’s Mom & More

Drood Star Chita Rivera on West Side Story, Chicago, Playing Liza’s Mom & More
Chita Rivera
Chita Rivera looks back at musical roles from six different decades!

When Chita Rivera takes the stage as Princess Puffer in The Mystery of Edwin Drood, audiences at Studio 54 erupt in cheers and applause. This great lady of the theater is nearing her 60th anniversary on Broadway, and fans are grateful to spend an evening in the company of a gorgeous, charismatic actress who knows exactly how to please a crowd. When the subject of her place in musical theater history comes up, Rivera admits, “Every once in a while I allow myself to think about that. I’ve been very fortunate, every day of my life.” For her Role Call, Rivera chose four of her nine Tony-honored performances, plus the role that made her a star way back in 1957 and one she hopes to play on Broadway in the future.

Role That Was the Most Fun
Chicago [1975, as Velma Kelly; Best Actress Tony nomination] was more fun than a barrel of monkeys. Every department enhanced the next, which is what makes a show a hit: the score, the book, the direction and choreography by Bob Fosse and, of course, the casting! That was vital. Good old Velma—she’s a killer, so she is obviously feisty, and she is smart and cunning and comical at times. When she wants something, she wants it done! She's just an extremely colorful character. Bob Fosse deserved more acclaim than he got when he was alive. Now that he’s gone, he’s getting it [with the long-running Chicago revival], and he would be shocked! He would probably laugh and shake his head.”

Role That Was the Most Dramatic
“In Kiss of the Spider Woman [1993, as Aurora/Spider Woman; Best Actress Tony Award], the magic of the movies was brought to life by [director] Hal Prince. That’s another show in which all the departments worked: The set was fabulous; the projections were perfect. I’ve always been fascinated by death, and I actually got the chance to play it. The role was perfect for me at that time in my life, because if I had done it when I was younger, I wouldn’t have been ready for Florence Klotz’s elegant, womanly costumes. I remember being interviewed with [co-star] Brent Carver, and the reporter said, ‘How does it feel to be a sex symbol at your age?’ Brent was totally insulted for me. I wasn’t insulted until I realized the little devil was really asking, ‘Can a woman your age be a sex symbol?’ I said, ‘Why not? I’m not dead, for goodness sake!’ I think the reporter learned a lesson that day.”

Role That Was My Big Break
“I came along at a great time on Broadway, and West Side Story [1957, as Anita] was an enormous break for all of us: me, Carol [Lawrence as Maria] and Larry [Kert as Tony]. They took a chance on us, but they made us work for it! We auditioned and auditioned and auditioned. You don’t fool with [director/choreographer] Jerry Robbins, or any of those guys; they knew what they were doing. Anita, even at her age, was like a mother to Maria. She was vivacious and passionate—she was Latin! She was also a jokester. The song ‘America’ is all about joking. She sings about Puerto Rico being an ‘ugly island,’ which is hardly the truth. She was jokester and a lover and a very exciting character.”

Role That Brought Friends Together
The Rink [1984, as Anna; Best Actress Tony Award] was extraordinary because I got the chance to play opposite Liza Minnelli, which we had always wanted to do. In the beginning, I laughed, because when Freddy [Ebb] and John [Kander] told me they wanted us to do the show, I said ‘We’re playing girlfriends, right?’ And they said, ‘Nooo, you’re playing mother and daughter.’ I said, ‘Who’s playing the mother?’ It was a challenge every night to realize that I was standing in front of my friend Liza, playing her mother, because I knew her mother [Judy Garland] and performed on her shows. I thought Terrence McNally’s book was wonderful, and I loved the score. [The pairing of Kander & Ebb’s two female muses] was just great; everything fell into place beautifully.”

Role That Deserves to Be Seen on Broadway
The Visit [2001 (Chicago) and 2008 (Signature of Virginia), as Claire Zachanassian] is a new musical with one of Freddy [Ebb] and John [Kander's] greatest scores—and that’s saying something! I’ve done so many of them, and this one is just magnificent. It’s a passionate, dark and, at times, funny story about love. My character has so many twists and turns: She starts out as the person she believes she is—with flaming red hair and gorgeous clothes by Susan Hilferty—until the very end of the show, when you see her as she truly is, an older woman with a gray bun and a chic suit. There are so many interesting things about this show, and it really should be seen here.”

Role That Was the Happiest Surprise
“I can’t forget to mention Bye Bye Birdie [1960, as Rose Alvarez; Best Featured Actress Tony nomination] because it was like being part of a delicious sundae, and playing opposite Dick Van Dyke was the cherry on top. I never heard so many laughs in my life! Gower Champion’s ‘Shriner’s Ballet’ will go down in history as one of the most clever pieces of choreography ever, even without Rose. When I first read the script, I thought, ‘I really don’t think this is going to make it.’ It was so innocent—I thought, ‘Who is going to accept a number about kids talking on the telephone all day?’ Then they played the music for me, and I said, ‘I have to be a part of this.’ Thank God I did!”

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