Review: ‘Chita Rivera’

While this seventy-five-year-old Broadway baby is still hot, she's not as hot as last year.

Chita Rivera stormed into Feinstein’s last November with a knockout one-woman show, taking the better parts of her not-so-effective 2005 Broadway showcase, “The Dancer’s Life,” and turning them into a sparkling affair. Ms. Rivera has brought her act back to Park Avenue for the Thanksgiving fortnight. While this seventy-five-year-old Broadway baby is still hot, she’s not as hot as last year.

Ms. Rivera remains a marvel: talented, energetic, giving her all. But the material didn’t quite land, at least not at the opening. What merited stand-up-and-cheer enthusiasm in 2007 is now impressive–which is not quite the same thing. Here is Ms. Rivera, once more, launching into “Camille, Collette, Fifi” from “Seventh Heaven” and “Chief Cook and Bottle Washer” from “The Rink”: forgettable numbers from flop musicals, pulled from the substandard song heap simply because they were once-upon-a-time introduced by Ms. Rivera. Yes, she performs them admirably and makes them sound good; but to quote one of the songs on the bill, there’s gotta be something better than this.

Act is by and large the same, although it seems to run longer. There is some slightly combative badinage with musical director Carmel Dean, who repeats from last year but does not seem to be an especially good match with the star. (An ineffective Australian-themed piece of special material that they shared last time around, “A Happy Aussie,” has wisely been axed.) Far more support seems to come from drummer Michael Croiter, who keeps the beat and provides some heat.

It seems churlish to mention Barbara Cook and Elaine Stritch, two Broadway luminaries of Ms. Rivera’s vintage who frequent the nitery circuit. Ms. Cook comes back every year with a different show; she often revisits familiar songs, but by reexamining them makes them fresh. Ms. Stritch, on the other hand, has been content to reprise her one-woman show, which somehow manages to have enhanced power upon repeat viewings. Ms. Rivera’s act has the opposite effect; her talent is all over the tiny stage (upon which she manages to demonstrate that she still has the moves), but the freshness date seems to have expired.

Let the star stand in the spotlight and sing “All That Jazz,” which might be deemed her personal property; or “Where Am I Going?” from “Sweet Charity,” the Fosse show in which she headed the National Company; or Jacques Brel’s dizzying “Carousel”; or “Love and Love Alone,” from Kander and Ebb’s swansong, “The Visit.” Here is Chita Rivera, supreme in her talent and ageless in her allure. But too much of this act, regretfully, seems to have lost its sparkle.

Chita Rivera

Feinstein's; 140 capacity; $95 top plus $40 minimum


Presented inhouse. Band: Carmel Dean, Michael Croiter, Mary Ann McSweeney. Opened, reviewed Nov. 18, 2008; runs through Nov. 29.

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