Broadway Legend Chita Rivera Talks with Musical Theatre Students

Photo: Jason Flamos

Broadway Legend Chita Rivera (standing, center, in black) poses with College of the Arts faculty, administrators, and the cast of "Sweet Charity."

Legendary Broadway dancer and actress Chita Rivera came to Montclair State University on January 25 to meet with musical theatre students, who are rehearsing Bob Fosse’s Sweet Charity, one of Rivera’s iconic shows. Gregory J. Dlugos, conductor and musical director in the University’s Musical Theatre program, who was Rivera’s musical conductor for many years and remains her good friend, arranged the campus visit.

Rivera was greeted with a standing ovation by the enthusiastic students who packed the L. Howard Fox Theatre. She spoke about her work in such Broadway shows as Call Me Madam, Guys and Dolls, Chicago, and Kiss of the Spider Woman, and shared many anecdotes and advice from a life in the theater, including “Don’t take yourself too seriously,” and “Follow your heart.” She has worked with stars such as Bob Fosse, Gwen Verdon, Shirley MacLaine, Sammy Davis Jr., and many others.

“The space on stage is a divine space,” she said. “Dancing is acting without words. I just wanted to dance to express myself.” She added that she had just celebrated her birthday. “I put my leg up over my head and said, ‘It’s all still here!’” she told the group happily.

Rivera was excited to talk with the students working on Sweet Charity, one of her favorite shows. “Charity is so much fun!” she said, “a Technicolor delightfully innocent show with great music and great style.” She asked which students were playing which roles, and discussed Fosse’s groundbreaking choreography. After some questions and discussion from Dlugos, she graciously took several questions from the audience, including from Mimi Quillin, a former assistant to Bob Fosse and the choreographer of the Montclair State production of Sweet Charity.

“I believe in working and I’m a workhorse,” Ms. Rivera proclaimed to the group. “Keep your energy high, be curious, love what you do. Don’t give up your hopes and dreams. Great things can happen in life. Make sure you’re ready!”

One of Broadway’s most versatile dancers, actresses, and singers, Rivera, is the first Hispanic woman to win a Kennedy Center Honors Award (2002). In 2009 she was awarded the Presidential Medal of Freedom. She has won two Tony Awards for best actress in a musical (for The Rink and Kiss of the Spider Woman), and has been nominated for Tony Awards eight times. She was the original Anita in West Side Story, the original Velma in Chicago, and the original Rosie in Bye Bye Birdie.

“One of the great advantages of being so close to New York is the availability of performers of this caliber to share their wisdom with our students,” said Clay James, coordinator of Montclair State’s musical theatre program. “Ms. Rivera was extremely generous with her time and her remarkable enthusiasm for the performing life.”

“Don’t let anything limit you,” Rivera told the students. “Be anything you want to be. Never stop learning. You are the future!”

Montclair State University’s production of Sweet Charity runs from February 16 to 20 and 23 to 26, 2011. Tickets are available at Peak Performances @ Montclair or by calling 973-655-5112.

View more photos from Chita Rivera's visit to Montclair State University.