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Ladies We Love: Chita Rivera

The hypnotizing stage presence, the throaty chuckle, those breathtaking kicks: Let us now celebrate Chita Rivera. At birth, she was christened Dolores Conchita Figueroa del Rivero. She shortened her given Puerto Rican name to Chita Rivera by the time she originated the role of the firebrand Anita in the Broadway production of West Side Story. After the landmark musical opened, the public truncated her name even further. She was suddenly "Chita," and always would be. Nearly 55 years later, the two-time Tony Award winner still performs regularly. This year, at the age of 78, she will tour a one-woman show and continue work on The Visit, the dark Kander and Ebb musical in which she starred in two recent productions. Hers is a tale not simply of endurance, but of passion and unfettered dedication. "Its all about keeping yourself in shape, contributing, and continuing to tell your stories," she says. Hearing her recount stories from her six-decade career is akin to hearing a quick-fire tutorial of a life well lived, one in which constant work is a thrill rather than a burden. The original cast of Chicago. Her first Tony for The Rink. The second for her powerhouse performance in the musical adaptation of Kiss of the Spider Woman. "Its been a great ride and it still is," Chita says. Even would-be disappointments are thrown into perspective. When asked how she feels about not reprising the role of Anita in the movie of West Side Story, she gracefully observes, "Big movies need big-movie names." She then notes that had she done the movie, she would not have been able to create the role of Rosie alongside Dick Van Dyke in the 1960 musical Bye Bye Birdie. The work, always the work. For a permanent record of Chitas lightning-bolt charisma and fierce athleticism, we always turn to the movie version of legendary choreographer Bob Fosses show Sweet Charity. In the film, Chita plays Nickie, a hard-nosed taxi dancer desperate for a life away from men with leering eyes and wandering hands full of dollar bills. With two coworkers she sings "Theres Gotta Be Something Better Than This," as she and her gal pals thrust and strut their way across a New York City rooftop. Watching Chita perform is a visceral reminder that longevity turns not on surviving, but on thriving. For that, Dolores Conchita Figueroa del Rivero, we tip our hats.
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