Review – Chita Rivera, Shaw Theatre, London

Sunday 10 February 2008

“Universally regarded as an American national treasure, Chita Rivera is Broadway’s most accomplished and versatile dancer/actress/singer,” begins the blurb on the Shaw Theatre‘s website which is an astonishing coincidence as this would be exactly the tone the Whingers would use in their own biographical notes.

Never mind, the 75 year old American national treasure finally hit London (her “second home”, she assured us) for “Feinstein’s At the Shaw” (as a brand, that’s not really working here, is it?) to an enthusiastic, nay, uncritical reception from an audience of confirmed bachelors – many of a certain age. In fact, some of them were of ages so “certain” that Phil felt positively nubile.

But why not? Why not be uncritical? She’s an American national treasure, a Broadway legend and it is mandatory for all card carrying homosexual London show folk to love her.

But that adoration is not undeserved – according to her biog: “Chita’s talent enabled genius Jerome Robbins to realize his ground-breaking choreographic vision for [West Side Story]… Chita’s performance as Anita was so central to the success of West Side Story that the London production was postponed until after she had given birth to her daughter, Lisa Mordente.”

Lisa joined her mother on stage to receive a round of applause for being her mother’s best friend “because she tells me the truth”. Well, Chita, Lisa’s clearly not being quite as honest with you as she might about your choice of sleeveless little black dress, but we’ll let that pass.

Chita is quite charming on stage, although in terms of the musical choices there were rather too many mini-medleys for Andrew’s taste and it was very much a slow burn for the first 20 minutes until she got to “Where am I going?” from Sweet Charity.

There was also a quite sublime rendition of “Nowadays” from Chicago but the tour de force of the evening turned out to be “Carousel” (from Jacques Brel is Alive and Well and Living in Paris) which she does almost as well as Maria Friedman.

A small trio of musicians punched above their weight with some nice arrangements and some very impressive percussion.

But the trouble for Broadway legends is that the octogenarian Elaine Stritch raised the bar (ahem) so high with her John Lahr penned At Liberty that our expectations for this kind of show have been raised to quite unrealistic levels.

And where Stritch was brittle and self-effacing, this was more in the Liza Minelli mode with hefty wedges of showbiz cheese which the audience lapped up. One patron sitting behind the Whingers (well let’s face it all the patrons were behind the Whingers who were sitting in the front row) whooped at almost every song or shmooze. It’s an American thing, the word insincerity passed both Whingers lips after the show as they are resistant – if not immune – to this sort of stuff. If anybody tells the Whingers to “Have a nice day” their usual response is “Why?” or “What’s it to you?”.

It wasn’t quite as embarrassing as the night Andrew saw Liza at the Royal Albert Hall just after the Queen Mother died. At one point Liza called a halt to the proceedings, put her hand on her heart and said sombrely: “I just want you to know, I feel for your loss.”

Anyway, Chita (or Dolores Conchita Figueroa del Rivero as the Whingers prefer to call her) of course received a standing ovation but there was to be no hand-kissing with the legend. We might all be her “new friends” but as the Whingers stood to ovate (it seemed the done thing) Chita took a noticeable three steps back. Very wise.

Anyway, it was fun. And the seats at The Shaw are the comfiest in town. Yes so very comfy and you can take your drinks in, Andrew might have normally been tempted to snooze. This was Phil’s first time at the Shaw, he was very impressed not least that they’ve named a theatre after Dame Fiona during her lifetime.

Note to Mr Feinstein at The Shaw: Phil entreats you to bring Carol Channing and Andrew begs you to get Steve Lawrence & Eydie Gorme over. Thank you.

And if you missed it the first time on Stars and their Websites 2 here’s Chita’s stylish home page. Note that only the home page is stylish. Click on “skip” to see the rest.

7 Responses to “Review – Chita Rivera, Shaw Theatre, London”

  1. nick Says:

    yes, there definately were a lot of “confirmed bachelors” of a “certain age” there. i went on friday, and as a 16 year old, I think I was the only person under 25 in the audience. and she was good, but I agree with the comments about people applauding everything she did. Like when she just mentioned a show she had been in, people clapped and wooped.

    And bring over carol channing! ‘RASPBERRIES!”

  2. webcowgirl Says:

    I thought that was a really good evening! And it’s hard to be critical of someone who really had done pretty well by managing to just still be walking around. I could have lived without the medlies (sp?) myself – but I was kind of suspect thta it might have been in part because her pipes weren’t up to carrying a full song anymore. Also, I figure that dress was chosen as one with “movement” but also one that would hide her figure flaws.

    God, she might have been a wee bit insincere (the thing about her new friends was pretty bad), but I think the emotion the people in the audience were feeling was honest enough – I mean, my God! She’s not dead! By watching her, we all celebrated 50 years of American musical theater, or, er, maybe 25 years or so since I don’t think there’s much that recent that was worth celebrating. And bless her little sequinned heart for singing all of those songs from shows that went nowhere – in some ways, I think that says more about “who she is” that just hitting the big songs would have, because to have had as long of a career as she did, you had to have some turkeys as well as the gold mines.

    Anyway, blather, I’m going to put on some of my show tunes and sing along now and reminisce about the Good Old Days, speaking of which, Gwen Verdon died in 2000 and I only found out this morning she wasn’t around anymore. Ah! How do I make sure that these days I’m living now I’m seeing the kind of talent I can wax nostalgic about in 2040?

  3. marki_boy Says:

    Hiya – a group of us saw the Saturday show, from row B and thought it was lovely. Chita’s performance of Carousel and All That Jazz were the highlights.

    It was a very male audience too, many wearing titfers as well as furs, for some reason. (Note: Must dust off my old homburg.) Apparently McKellan and others were in attendance at the Friday show, tho the only celeb (tbc) we spotted on Saturday was Alana Pillay, who thrust a red rose up at Chita at the end (getting her attention by whacking her on the leg with the rose) – she was a little taken aback.

    Chita was fab – she signed for us and had a little chat with the people remaining afterwards.


  4. Oh dear, Whingers. I love Chita and probably would have been hooting with the utmost sincerity.

    On the Liza comment, all I can say is that when Americans do say things like she did, I dare say it’s because of a compulsion to “feel your pain” – the epitome of that characteristic that came into vogue during the 90s thanks to our President Bill Clinton who tried and often succeeded in connecting with others. However, it all too often comes off as phoney as a three pound note.

    As for Carol Channing, I took in a one-woman show that was similarly structured to Elaine Stritch’s superb show (I agree wtih you that Stritchy set the bar extremely high). Unfortunately, the formerly robust Hello Dolly actress is losing her faculties, often needing an embarrassing degree of prompting to keep her on track. Her meandering presentation is rarely coherent, sad to say.

  5. Graham Says:

    I went on Friday too – together with Ian McKellan, Mathew Bourne and lots of men with shaved heads. The situation reminded me of those saunas Bette Middler started her singing career in.


  6. @SOB: yes, we know Carol’s a bit past her prime these days but that’s just fine with us.


  7. Well after seeing Ute with jetlag last Thursday I think Chita was tops… Oh and the seats are not as comfy at the Shaw as you get further back!


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