Chita Rivera, celebrated for her iconic roles in over 20 Broadway musicals spanning six decades, has passed away at the age of 91, as confirmed by her daughter, Lisa Mordente. The three-time Tony Award winner left an indelible mark on Broadway with unforgettable performances as Anita in West Side Story, Rose in Bye Bye Birdie, Velma Kelly in Chicago, and Aurora in Kiss of the Spiderwoman.
Renowned Broadway producer Laurence Maslon described Rivera as the epitome of Broadway excellence, stating, “She was spontaneous, compelling, and talented as hell for decades and decades.” Despite not being a born Broadway aficionado, Rivera’s journey began as a tomboy in Washington, D.C., where she eventually found her passion for ballet.
Rivera’s breakthrough came when she landed the role of Anita in West Side Story in 1957, marking the start of her illustrious Broadway career. Reflecting on her experience with NPR, Rivera recalled the challenge and joy of performing in West Side Story, embracing the rhythmic energy of the music.
Throughout her career, Rivera showcased her remarkable talents in singing, acting, and dancing, establishing herself as the quintessential triple threat on Broadway. Despite facing setbacks, including a serious taxi accident in 1986 that left her with a shattered leg, Rivera persevered and continued to captivate audiences with her unparalleled stage presence.
Her contributions to Broadway earned her numerous accolades, including several Tony Awards, a Kennedy Center honor, and a Presidential Medal of Freedom. Rivera’s dedication to the stage and her legendary status as a Broadway icon cemented her legacy in the annals of theater history.
In the words of Maslon, Broadway legends like Rivera are meant to be experienced live, embodying the essence of theatrical brilliance that transcends time and form.