TBT: When Chita Rivera Became a Star

November 3, 2022

November 1957 marked the first appearance of Chita Rivera on the cover of Dance Magazine. West Side Story had just premiered, and the then-24-year-old Rivera’s star-making turn as Anita led Leo Lerman to declare in his report for that issue, “Here is a performer of enormous individuality with a dance approach quite uniquely her own. She has made the transition from chorus to star with seemingly no effort, shedding irritating mannerisms and replacing them with the superbly assured manner of, with luck, a future great lady of the American musical theatre.”

Lerman’s prediction proved correct: Rivera, now 89, has been nominated for 10 Tony Awards (winning two, for The Rink in 1984 and Kiss of the Spider Woman in 1993), originated the role of Velma Kelly in Chicago, and received a Kennedy Center Honor in 2002 (the first Latino American to do so), the Presidential Medal of Freedom in 2009 and the Tony Award for Lifetime Achievement in Theatre in 2018.

“I definitely came along in a golden age,” she told us in February 2004. “[Jerome] Robbins, [Bob] Fosse, Gower Champion, Peter Gennaro, Michael Kidd, Jack Cole—all of the greats. And they were all so different! It makes you a much more interesting person to have all these styles put on your body…. I wouldn’t trade being a dancer for anything. It’s the reason I’m still here.”