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Updated: Mar 15, 2007 - 22:28:46 PDT
 

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THEATER:
An original recounts a 'Dancer's Life'

Four years before Rita Moreno won an Oscar for "West Side Story" back in 1962, Chita Rivera created the role of Anita on Broadway.

Before Janet Leigh feigned Latino heritage about the same time in "Bye Bye Birdie," Rivera had been there first, as the original Rosie.

Before Catherine Zeta-Jones won her Oscar for "Chicago," Rivera had created her character of Velma Kelly in 1975.

Tuesday, Chita Rivera's lengthy career will be celebrated at the Orange County Performing Arts Center in a new musical, "Chita Rivera: The Dancer's Life," running through March 25.

Written by noted playwright and four-time Tony-winner Terrence McNally ("Frankie and Johnny in the Claire de Lune"), the tribute follows Rivera from her early days of "Dancing on the Kitchen Table" through the "West Side Story" and "Bye Bye Birdie" days and to her Tony awards for "The Rink" and "Kiss of the Spider Woman."

For Chita Rivera, it all started at the age of 17, when the young ballerina accompanied a friend to an audition for the chorus of "Call Me Madam" — without any serious intention of pursuing a role in the show. Choreographer Jerome Robbins saw her and cast her as the principal dancer, and the rest, as they say, is history.

Her 50-year performing career was capped five years ago when she was among the honorees at the Kennedy Center. Rivera, however, would list her most treasured production as her daughter, dancer Lisa Mordente, who will perform in her mother's show at the performing arts center.

"Chita Rivera: The Dancer's Life," choreographed by Graciela Daniele, will feature a cast of Broadway singers and dancers and offers a recreation of the moment when great musical numbers in the theater were born — as related and performed by the woman for whom they were created.

Included in next week's production will be choreography created by stage legends, as well as new songs by Tony-winners. And Rivera will belt out numbers from "West Side Story" and many of the other shows she helped make famous.

IF YOU GO

WHAT: "Chita Rivera: The Dancer's Life"

 WHEN: 7:30 p.m. Tuesday through Friday; 2 p.m. and 7 :30 p.m. Saturday; and 1 p.m. and 6:30 p.m. Sunday

WHERE: Orange County Performing Arts Center, Segerstrom Hall, 600 Town Center Drive, Costa Mesa

INFO: (714) 556-2787 or www.ocpac.org






  • TOM TITUS reviews local theater for the Daily Pilot. His reviews appear Fridays.


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