“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.