Chita Rivera introduces us to her alter ego in new memoir

It’s hard to imagine Anita, Rose Alvarez and Velma Kelly without Chita Rivera, who first breathed life into these beloved Broadway characters.

At a time when there was limited Latino representation on stage, this young woman of Puerto Rican, Scottish and Irish descent was taking Broadway by storm and ensuring everyone knew her name.

The dancer-turned-Broadway legend reminisces in her new book, “Chita: A Memoir.” Written with arts journalist Patrick Pacheco, it’s an inside look at Rivera’s journey from a spunky girl jumping on furniture in her family’s Washington, D.C., home to a professional dancer and then a three-time Tony Award-winning performer.

Each chapter feels like a personal diary entry as Rivera, now 90, also talks about motherhood, and loves lost and found.

“It was the next stage for me to write it down. And it was God’s way of reminding me this is the life I had or have. I got so busy that I didn’t remember that I had a wonderful, wonderful life,” she told the Associated Press.

While Rivera is the memoir’s main character, another woman steals scene after scene: her self-proclaimed alter ego, Dolores. Dolores is unapologetic and fiery. She is the unfiltered version of Chita and serves as motivation in times of self-doubt. In one chapter, Rivera writes that she doesn’t read reviews “or Dolores just might invest in a dozen voodoo dolls.”

“I consist of — and I think we all do — I consist of two people: Dolores and Conchita,” said Rivera with a chuckle. “Conchita, she’s the one that has been taking all the glory, you know. She’s been doing all the shows, but Dolores is the one that’s pushed her into it. And she’s been keeping me on track, so I listen to Dolores. I listen to her. She’s growing in my head now as we speak.”

Rivera was born Dolores Conchita Figueroa del Rivero. Friends knew her as Chita, but it wasn’t until someone recommended that she shorten her name to fit on a show poster that she became Chita Rivera. It was a name that she felt respected her heritage.

“If I was going to lose some parts because directors or agents thought my name sounded too south of the border, well, that was their problem,” she writes in the memoir.

Rivera dedicates a chapter to the late Sammy Davis Jr., whom she met while working on the Broadway musical “Mr. Wonderful” early in her career. She talks about their romantic relationship, and the legendary rat pack member’s inner struggles. Rivera says she decided to go into more detail about their relationship because “it was time to,” and she wanted readers to know her and Sammy better.

“He was an extraordinary human being who had the same problems as everybody else, but he dealt with them in a different way. And I cherish the time that I had with Sammy because he was an amazing person,” she said.

For Rivera, vulnerability in love isn’t something to hide. “The loves of my life enabled me to explore myself even more,” she said.

“And I always said, you know, we should have two lives, one to try out and one you’re judged by. But we don’t. We have one life, and we have to live it as best we can,” said Rivera.

Hers became that of a theatre icon, best known for her roles in “West Side Story” (Anita), “Bye Bye Birdie” (Rose) and “Chicago” (Velma). Accolades include a Presidential Medal of Freedom in 2009; Tony Awards, including one for Lifetime Achievement in Theatre; Kennedy Center Honors and more, filling up pages and pages at the end of her memoir. She also appeared in film and on television.

Her book includes memories of other Broadway legends like Fred Ebb, John Kander, Liza Minnelli, Leonard Bernstein and more.

“And I’m very, very lucky that I met all these people that made up my life,” said Rivera. “They are responsible for me being who I am.”

In the very first chapters of the book, she writes, Gwen Verdon gave her life-altering words of affirmation.

“Be more confident. Go out and create your own roles. Forge your own path,” Verdon told her.

Similar encouragement came from other mentors and colleagues, including Davis, who told her not to “sell herself short.” Those shows of support, she recalls, ”were a shock at the beginning because it was such a surprise.”

Rivera was married once, to fellow dancer Tony Mordente, and has a daughter.

Above all, she says, she hopes those reading her memoir will live their lives fearlessly.

“If I can do it, so can you. So if there are any kids out there that have any questions at all, I hope that I answer some of the questions for them and give them courage,” she says. “To go on with their lives, with their own lives and not be afraid of what life has for them.”

Panorama Hispano is the regional news and information newspaper for Hispanic and other diverse communities.

US Hispanics are now the largest ethnic minority in the United States numbering 54.2 million as of July 2014. Serving: Buffalo, Rochester, Fredonia, Niagara Falls, NY and Erie, PA. Outside our Market area: Visit our affiliate at: http://www.impremedia.com/

Contact us: Contact@PanoramaHispanoNews.com

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