Remember Chita Rivera By Looking Back on Her Most Iconic Performances | Playbill

Video Remember Chita Rivera By Looking Back on Her Most Iconic Performances

Though her stage shows were not filmed, the late performer high-kicked her heels up for the camera at talk shows and the Tony Awards.

As the Broadway community continues to pay tribute to legend Chita Rivera, who died January 30 at the age of 91, we at Playbill are looking back at her long career with some of our favorite performances captured on film. 

Scroll on for clips from television variety shows, awards shows, and concerts. There, you'll see the three-time Tony recipient perform cabaret tunes and Broadway numbers from some of her career's hit shows. And this is just a tiny taste of the trove of footage archived on YouTube. We recommend a cup of tea and a couple of hours to deep dive into the annals. 

"This Could Be the Start of Something"

Rivera performed the Steve Allen tune "This Could Be the Start of Something" on the June 3, 1962 episode of The Ed Sullivan Show. We're loving the chorus fellows chanting her name at the top of the number. 

"There's Got to Be Something Better Than This"

When the 1966 musical Sweet Charity went on the road in 1967, Rivera led the tour as the title character (it had been Rivera's Chicago co-star, Gwen Verdon, on Broadway). But for the 1969 film, producers went with another redhead for the role Charity Hope Valentine, popular film star Shirley MacLaine. Rivera took the role of fellow taxi cab dancer Nickie in the film, performing the song-and-dance number "There's Got to Be Something Better Than This" alongside MacLaine and Paula Kelly

"I Enjoy Being a Girl"

Although often described as "fiery," Rivera had strong comedy chops—she did star in several musical comedies, after all. Here she is in a goofy number from the mid-'60s CBS variety show The Entertainers, performing "I Enjoy Being a Girl" from Flower Drum Song. She gave the song a wonderfully bizarre twist—it's set in a graveyard, with Rivera costumed to resemble Morticia Addams, in a trio with comedienne Carol Burnett and Italian-French recording artist Caterina Valente.

"Nowadays/Hot Honey Rag"

In an appearance on The Mike Douglas Show, Rivera and Verdon perform the Chicago finale number "Nowadays/Hot Honey Rag" from the 1975 John Kander, Fred Ebb, and Bob Fosse musical. Both women were nominated for Best Actress Tony Awards for their roles as Velma Kelly (Rivera) and Roxie Hart (Verdon). However, Chicago was completely shut out on awards night with a sweep by A Chorus Line. But that did not dampen Chicago's place in musical theatre history and we have this performance from the two legends for posterity.

"All I Care About Is Love"

While we're on the topic of Chicago, we had to include this number from the 2016 Broadway Backwards concert. An annual Broadway Cares fundraiser, the concert features an evening of gender-bent performances. Rivera sang "All I Care About Is Love," crooned in Chicago by lawyer Billy Flynn, surrounded by a chorus of showgirls holding feather fans.


Just one more Chicago tune. We have to include this one, with Rivera surprising Liza Minnelli, John Kander, and Fred Ebb on an episode of The Dinah Shore show in 1975. The excitement from Minnelli and the tears from Ebb are testament to how much Rivera was loved by the entertainment community. Even her very good friends was thrilled beyond belief when she entered a room. 

"The Apple Doesn't Fall Far From the Tree"

Speaking of Liza...In 1984, Rivera and Minnelli starred together on Broadway as mother and daughter in The Rink. The show was written for them by Kander and Ebb and book writer Terrance McNally. Rivera won her first Tony Award for playing the "Chief Cook and Bootle Washer" in the show, about a woman whose crumbling roller-skating rink is a reminder of her fraught relationships with her husband and daughter. 


On another variety show appearance, Rivera performed a number titled "Blue" (with a chorus of male dancers) on The Hollywood Palace in the mid-'60s. Judy Garland introduces her saying, "The first time I saw Chita Rivera, she was so great, I wanted to rush up on stage and throw my arms around her...and wring her neck!"

"Where You Are"

Rivera took home her second Tony for Aurora, the fantasy film star who visits an Argentinian prisoner in Kiss of the Spider Woman. She was 60 years old when the Kander, Ebb, and McNally musical premiered on Broadway, but the dance legend still had high kicks that would knock hats off, as evidenced in the 1993 Tony Awards performance of "Where You Are." (She would again demonstrate that she still had it in Nine on Broadway in 2003 and in her memoir show Chita Rivera: A Dancer's Life in 2006.)

"Love and Love Alone"

Kander, Ebb, and McNally's 2015 musical The Visit was Rivera's final Broadway production. It was originally created with Angela Lansbury in mind, but, due to illness, she withdrew. Rivera stepped in and originated the role of Claire Zachanassian, the world's wealthiest woman who is returning to her hometown to take revenge on an old lover (based on the German satire Der Besuch der alten Dame)Rivera earned her final Tony nomination for The Visit. Here's the Tony Awards performance from The Visit

"A Boy Like That"

We are distraught that there are no videos of Rivera playing her most famous role, Anita in West Side Story, on film (though perhaps the New York Public Library's Theatre on Film and Tape Archive will throw us a bone here). But we do have something close courtesy of PBS. In 2015, the network aired Chita Rivera: A Lot of Livin’ to Do as part of its Great Performances series. The retrospective included Rivera's contemporaries speaking about her impact on Broadway, and also Rivera performing her best-known songs in a concert setting. See Rivera perform "A Boy Like That" below, interposed with footage of her in 1964 talking about West Side Story.

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