Chita Rivera (born Dolores Conchita Figueroa del Rivero on January 23, 1933 in Washington, D.C.) is a Broadway musical actress and dancer of Puerto Rican heritage, and the first Hispanic woman to receive a Kennedy Center Honors award.
Her father was from Puerto Rico; he played clarinet and saxophone for the Navy band. Chita's mother, Katherine Figueroa, went to work for The Pentagon when Chita was seven years old and her father passed away; Chita's mother herself passed away in 1983.
In 1944, Chita's mother enrolled her in the Jones-Hayward School of Ballet. Later, when Chita was 15, a teacher from George Balanchine's School of American Ballet visited their studio and Chita was one of two students picked to audition in New York City; she was accompanied to the audition by Doris Jones, one of the people who ran the Jones-Hayward School. Chita's audition was successful and she was accepted into the school and given a scholarship by George Balanchine. Among her new teachers were Allegra Kent and Maria Tallchief.
In 1952, Chita accompanied a friend to the audition for a Broadway production of Call Me Madam and herself ended up winning the role. She followed this by landing further roles in other Broadway productions, such as:
Guys and Dolls
Mr. Wonderful (with Sammy Davis Jr.)
Besides her ballet instructors, Chita considered that she learned a lot from Leonard Bernstein, and especially from the late Gwen Verdon, with whom she participated in the Broadway production of Chicago.
In 1957, Chita was cast in the role which was destined to make her a Broadway star - the firebrand "Anita" in the Broadway premiere of West Side Story. Years later the role of Anita was to bring fame and an Oscar to another Puerto Rican, Rita Moreno, in the film version.
On December 1, 1957, Rivera married dancer Tony Mordente. Her performance was so important for the success of the show that the London production was postponed until after Chita gave birth to the couple's daughter, Lisa.
Chita also starred in the Broadway productions of:
Bye Bye Birdie,
The Rose Tattoo,
Call Me Madam,
Kiss Me, Kate,
Kiss of the Spider Woman and
She also went on a national tour with Can-Can. and played the role of Nicky in the movie version of Sweet Charity with Shirley MacLaine.
In 1986, Rivera was in a severe accident when her car collided with a taxi on West 86th Street in Manhattan. Injuries sustained included the breaking of her left leg in 12 places places, requiring 18 screws and two braces to mend. After rehabilitation, Rivera continued to perform on stage.
Rivera is regarded by many theatre aficionados as a "living legend" and indeed "In Theatre" magazine has suggested in an interview by George Horsfall: " You must be tired of the term "legend", but let's get it out of the way. You have long been considered a Broadway legend."" Rivera replied "Oh, God!" and laughed.
Rivera received two Tony Awards and six additional nominations. She received her first Tony in 1984 for her role in The Rink and her second for Best Leading Actress in a Musical in 1993 for her role in Kiss of the Spider Woman.
In 2002 Chita Rivera became the first female Hispanic to receive the prestigious Kennedy Center Honors award presented by U.S. President George W. Bush, recognizing her contributions to U.S. culture.
On November 23, 2005, Chita Rivera began previews on Broadway of "A Dancer's Life," a retrospective of her career. The play opened on Broadway on December 11, 2005 and is planning to close on February 19th, 2006.