Chita Rivera (born on January 23, 1933) is an American actress dancer, and singer best known for her roles in musical theater. She is the first Hispanic woman to receive a Kennedy Center Honors award (December 2002).
In 1944, Rivera's mother enrolled her in the Jones-Hayward School of Ballet. Later, when she was 15, a teacher from George Balanchine's School of American Ballet visited their studio and Rivera was one of two students picked to audition in New York City; she was accompanied to the audition by Doris Jones, one of the people who ran the Jones-Hayward School. Chita's audition was successful and she was accepted into the school and given a scholarship. Among her new teachers were Allegra Kent and Maria Tallchief.
On December 1 1957, Rivera married dancer Tony Mordente. Her performance was so important for the success of the show that the London production of West Side Story was postponed until she gave birth to the couple's daughter Lisa. In 1963, Rivera was cast opposite Alfred Drake in Zenda. The Broadway-bound musical closed on the road.
In 1986, Rivera was in a severe accident when her car collided with a taxi on West 86th Street in Manhattan. Injuries sustained included the breaking of her left leg in twelve places, requiring eighteen screws and two braces to mend. After rehabilitation, Rivera continued to perform on stage.
Rivera is regarded by many theatre aficionados as a "living legend" and in an In Theatre magazine interview, George Horsfall suggested, "You must be tired of the term 'legend', but let's get it out of the way. You have long been considered a Broadway legend." Rivera replied "Oh, God!" and laughed.
Rivera starred in the Goodman Theatre production of the Kander and Ebb musical The Visit as "Claire Zachanassian" in 2001. In 2008 she appeared in a revised production of the musical at the Signature Theatre in Arlington, Virginia, co-starring George Hearn.
In 1993, she received a Tony Award for Best Leading Actress in a Musical for her portrayal of Aurora in the Tony-award winning musical Kiss of the Spider Woman written by Kander and Ebb.
In 2003, Rivera returned to Broadway in the 2003 revival of Nine as Liliane La Fleur, and received her eighth career Tony Award nomination (Best Featured Actress in a Musical) and fourth Drama Desk Award nomination (Outstanding Featured Actress in a Musical). Chita appeared with Antonio Banderas. She later appeared on the revival's cast album.
On television, Chita was a guest on the Judy Garland show. She guest-starred along with Michele Lee in a February 2005 episode of Will & Grace, and in December of that year, Chita Rivera: The Dancer's Life, a retrospective of her career, opened on Broadway. She received yet another Tony nomination for her self-portrayal. Though she was expected to reprise her role in a Signature Theatre staging of The Visit in Autumn 2007, that was later postponed to the following season. Instead, she performed at New York's Feinsten's At The Regency supper club in New York for two weeks. Signature Theatre's production of The Visit opened to rapturous reviews on May 13, 2008 and closed June 22, 2008.
Chita also had a cameo in the movie version of "Chicago" starring Catherine Zeta Jones and Richard Gere.
Chita will guest-star on Disney Channel's Johnny and the Sprites as Queen of All Magical Beings. The episode will debut on March 15, 2008.