Despite working more than 60 years on Broadway, Chita Rivera never thought she would receive a lifetime achievement Tony Award, much less one alongside Andrew Lloyd Webber.
“It kind of makes you feel like you did something after all these years,” Rivera said in an interview with Broadway News.
The Tony Award is only one in a line of accolades for Rivera, who has received 10 Tony nominations, a Presidential Medal of Freedom, and a Kennedy Center Honors Award, among others, and most recently, an honorary degree from the University of Florida, Gainesville, making her Dr. Chita Rivera.
But even with all of the awards and a career that has included originating classic roles such as Anita in “West Side Story” and Velma Kelly in “Chicago,” Rivera is not done yet. In fact, she would like to return to Broadway.
“I would in a second,” Rivera said. “That’s where I belong, that’s what I really love.”
Asked if there were any plans in motion, Rivera said “Yes,” but was not able to expand on the details of her possible Broadway return.
Before she became one of Broadway’s leading ladies, Rivera cut her teeth as a chorus member and dancer, which she said helped lay the foundation for her career and her work ethic.
“You learn a lot being in the chorus,” Rivera said. “You learn how to share, you know how to cover and you know how to make 12 people one.“
A love of work drives her to continue performing outside of Broadway, including a recent concert tour with Tommy Tune and her long-standing cabaret act, which was put together by her longtime collaborators John Kander and Fred Ebb.
Later, speaking at an event organized by the League of Professional Theatre Women, Rivera reflected on a career filled with musical theater legends such as Kander, Ebb and Terrence McNally, all of whom she said “knew things about me, I didn’t know myself,” as well as Jerome Robbins, who “had all the answers, as far as I was concerned.”
Rivera began her stage career with the show “Call Me Madam,” which offered her $250 a week to go on the road with Elaine Stritch.
A few shows later, she took on the role of Anita and nervously fine-tuned her singing abilities with Leonard Bernstein, who played through her part on the piano at his apartment.
At that point, Rivera said she did not realize what a hit the show would become. Then it became apparent during the Washington, D.C. run of “West Side Story,” when her song was met with thunderous applause.
“‘America’ stopped the show dead, and we didn’t know what to do with that,” Rivera said.
Now, with a career creating iconic roles and working alongside legendary composers and choreographers, Rivera told Broadway News that she is looking forward to returning to the Tony Awards to express her gratitude.
“I’ve been in the business for a long time, and it’s been very good to me, so I would just like to tell the universe ‘Thank You,’” Rivera said.