“West Side Story” opened 50 Septembers ago, which means that Chita Rivera has to be at least — well, at least 50. But she still has all the moves, and then some. Chita cleverly chooses “I Won’t Dance” for her opener on the postage-stamp-sized floorspace at Feinstein’s. (Otherwise, she jokes, “I’ll wind up in your entree.”) She doesn’t dance, exactly, but this dancer-singer-comedienne — with “lines on my face and pins in my knees” — outshines the spotlight.
The star was last seen locally in her 2005 Broadway showcase “Chita Rivera: The Dancer’s Life,” which proved to be a mixed pleasure. She was presented like a revered museum piece, almost as if encased behind a sheet of protective, bullet-proof glass.
At Feinstein’s we get Chita without the frame: no directors, no producers, no designers, just a remarkable talent igniting the room. This act is everything that “A Dancer’s Life” promised but wasn’t. Star power is on display, pure and simple.
A fair amount of material from “A Dancer’s Life” is used, but there is little similarity in the impact. Here is Rivera unvarnished; her ability to transmit her enthusiasm to the patrons is very much on display. She steps into actual characters when she sings; her body transforms into Anita or Velma, and the years strip away.
Rivera also reprises her Charity — she spent a year in the national company of “Sweet Charity,” as well as playing a lesser role in the film version — which accounts for an effective, one-woman “Big Spender.” “Chief Cook and Bottle Washer” garners hearty laughs, as does “Camille, Colette, Fifi.” (This last was included in “A Dancer’s Life,” but here Rivera does all three parts in a fast and funny turn.)
On a more serious side, star gives an especially stirring rendition of “Love and Love Alone,” from Kander & Ebb’s “The Visit.”
Rivera might consider replacing a piece of special material, “A Happy Aussie,” that makes her work too hard (as it is relentlessly unfunny). Musical combo is adequate but, perhaps due to lack of rehearsal, doesn’t give the star much assistance. But to paraphrase her big solo spot in “Chicago,” she just can do it alone.