Theatre News

Tributes pour in for Chita Rivera, who has died aged 91

The Broadway legend has passed away

Chita Rivera, © David Gordon

Broadway legend Chita Rivera has died at the age of 91.

Rivera died peacefully on January 30 after a brief illness, according to daughter Lisa Mordente and publicist Merle Frimark.

Born Dolores Conchita Figueroa del Rivero in Washington, DC on January 23, 1933, Rivera trained as a ballerina from the age of nine, receiving a scholarship to the School of American Ballet. Her first major role, at the age of 19, was as a principal dancer in Call Me Madam. Her career was dotted with legendary original productions: Guys and Dolls and Can-Can, among them. Her performance as Anita in West Side Story made her a star, and she cemented her reputation as the original Rosie in Bye Bye Birdie and Velma in Chicago – a role she also brought to the West End. She was a two-time Tony winner for The Rink and Kiss of the Spider Woman, as well as the recipient of a a Lifetime Achievement Tony Award in 2018.

Among Rivera’s other Broadway roles are Lilliane in Nine opposite Antonio Banderas; Princess Puffer in The Mystery of Edwin Drood; herself in her biographical musical The Dancer’s Life; and Claire Zachannassian in The Visit, which marked her final Broadway appearance in 2015. She earned 10 Tony nominations over the course of her career.

Rivera was awarded a Kennedy Center Honor, the Presidential Medal of Freedom presented by President Barack Obama, and Living Landmark status from the New York Landmarks Concervancy. She toured throughout the world as a cabaret performer, playing sold-out shows at venues ranging from Carnegie Hall to Cadogan Hall. Her career retrospective concert Chita Rivera: A lot of Livin’ to Do was presented on PBS’s Great Performances, and her memoir, Chita, was published by HarperOne in April 2023.

In addition to Mordente, she is survived by siblings Julio, Armando, and Lola del Rivero, along with many nieces and nephews. She is predeceased by her parents and older sister, Carmen.

The Broadway production of Chicago tweeted: “We are heartbroken to learn Chita Rivera has passed away at 91. She was the original Velma Kelly and also played Roxie in Toronto, Las Vegas and London. Chita’s influence, warmth, and other-worldly talent will inspire us always. Tonight’s show is for her.”

Andrew Lloyd Webber shared: “Farewell Chita. You redefined the words ‘theatrical legend’. I’ll never forget how we laughed backstage before we got lifetime Tonys. I stifled hiccups through my speech. I am truly honoured to have shared a moment with you.”