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Posts Tagged ‘West Side Story’

Chita Rivera is a living legend and I’m thrilled and honored to have her as part of “Adaumbelle’s Quest.” I’ve had the fortunate opportunity to see Chita on Broadway in “Nine” and “Chita Rivera: A Dancer’s Life.”  Both experiences were special for different reasons. “Nine” was my very first time getting to see Chita live on stage and “Chita Rivera: A Dancer’s Life” allowed me to really learn about her life, which I found thrilling. I feel very fortunate to now have the opportunity to interview the one and only Chita Rivera!

An accomplished and versatile actress/singer/dancer, Chita Rivera has won two Tony Awards as Best Leading Actress in a Musical and received seven additional Tony nominations. She recently starred in the Broadway and touring productions of The Dancer’s Life, a dazzling new musical celebrating her spectacular career, written by Terence McNally and directed by Graciela Daniele. Chita was awarded The Presidential Medal of Freedom by President Barack Obama on August 12, 2009. She received the coveted Kennedy Center Honor in Washington, DC in December, 2002, and is the first Hispanic ever chosen to receive this award.

On October 13, 2009, Chita released a new solo studio CD entitled AND NOW I SWING (Yellow Sound label), which pays homage to her stage legacy while also displaying her passion for jazz. From classic theater songs to jazz standards, all tracks featured on this new album have received new arrangements recorded by New York’s finest musicians, reimagining some of Chita’s favorite tunes.

This past Spring, Chita recreated her starring role in The Visit, the new Kander/Ebb/McNally musical at the Signature Theatre in Arlington, VA, which originally premiered at the Goodman Theatre, Chicago in 2001. Her more recent stage appearances include starring roles in the revival of the musical Nine with Antonio Banderas on Broadway; The House of Bernarda Alba at the Mark Taper Forum in Los Angeles; Venecia, a new Argentinean play directed by Arthur Laurents at the George Street Playhouse; Reno Sweeney in Anything Goes at Paper Mill Playhouse. She also starred in the London, Las Vegas and Toronto productions of Chicago-The Musical.

For her starring role in Kiss of the Spider Woman on Broadway, Chita received the 1993 Tony Award as Best Leading Actress in a Musical, as well as the Drama Desk Award for Outstanding Achievement as an Actress in a Musical, the Outer Critics Circle Award as Outstanding Actress in a Musical, the Drama League Award for Distinguished Achievement in Musical Theatre and The Astaire Award honoring outstanding achievement in Broadway Dance. Chita first played the role of the Spider Woman in the Toronto production of the show in 1992, receiving unanimous acclaim.  She then repeated her triumph in the fall of 1992 in the London production of Spider Woman, which won The Evening Standard Award as Best Musical of the Year. This was followed by the Broadway and touring productions.

Chita’s performing aspirations began with ballet training at the age of 11 in her native Washington, DC. Five years later, Chita moved to New York, where she auditioned for legendary choreographer George Balanchine. Balanchine of course recognized Chita’s talent and gave her a scholarship to the American School of Ballet, where she began taking classes at the same time as the dancers Edward Villella, Melissa Hayden, Allegra Kent and Maria Tallchief.

As an aspiring 17 year-old ballerina, Chita decided to accompany a friend to an audition for the chorus of Call Me Madam. Although she had no serious intention of pursuing a part in the show, Chita was cast as a principal dancer, and choreographed by Jerome Robbins. The ballet world’s loss was Broadway’s gain — a future legend’s theater career was born.

After completing a cross-country tour of Call Me Madam, Chita returned to New York to replace Onna White as a principal dancer in Guys and Dolls. Following Guys and Dolls, Chita joined the cast of the original Broadway company of Can-Can, in which her future co-star, Gwen Verdon, first achieved stardom.

Chita then went Off-Broadway to prove that she could do more than dance, doing so to great acclaim with her amazing performance in Ben Bagley’s Shoestring Revue, in which she did the very first Marilyn Monroe impersonation. Her co-stars in The Shoestring Revue included Beatrice Arthur and Arte Johnson.

Photo by Laura Marie Duncan

Chita then returned to Broadway as a featured performer in Seventh Heaven, choreographed by Peter Gennaro; and Mr. Wonderful, starring Sammy Davis, Jr.

But it was not until September 26, 1957 that Chita made the transition from accomplished Broadway performer to a toast of the town Broadway star with her electric performance as Anita in the Broadway premiere of West Side Story. Chita then took some time off for the birth of her daughter, Lisa. Chita had met and married Lisa’s father, dancer Tony Mordente, during the run of West Side Story.

Chita then went on to star in the London production of West Side Story, which had been postponed until Chita was ready to perform after Lisa’s birth. Chita’s New York success was repeated in London, and she stayed with the show there for a year. She then returned to Broadway to star as Rosie with Dick Van Dyke in the new musical, Bye Bye Birdie, in which she led the show-stopping number “Shriner’s Ballet.” Her rousing performance earned a Tony nomination as Best Actress. Chita then reprised her role in the London production of Bye Bye Birdie at Her Majesty’s Theatre, where she first achieved London stardom in West Side Story.

Back in the US, her triumphant performance as Jenny in the national tour of The Threepenny Opera, was soon followed by the title role in the national tour of Bob Fosse’s Sweet Charity. Chita was also cast in the film version of Sweet Charity, in which she played Nicky opposite Shirley MacLaine. During the filming of Sweet Charity, Chita fell in love with Los Angeles and decided to make it her home for the next seven years.

But touring theatre successes often took her from home. She played Billie Dawn in Born Yesterday and Serafina in The Rose Tattoo; she toured opposite John Raitt in Zorba; and she extended her range in such productions as Kiss Me Kate, opposite Hal Linden,  Jacques Brel.…, and Oliver Hailey’s Father’s Day. All of these productions and other projects had kept Chita away from Broadway for eight years, far too long according to her friends and colleagues Fred Ebb, John Kander, and Bob Fosse. So they lured Chita back to New York to star as Velma Kelly, opposite Gwen Verdon, in their new musical, Chicago.

Photo by Walter McBride

But as soon as she arrived in New York, Chita discovered that Chicago‘s rehearsals had been postponed because director/choreographer Fosse was ill. It was then that Fred Ebb, who had written a highly-successful nightclub act for  Chita in the 60’s, went to work on another for her until Fosse recovered. She opened to rave reviews and capacity crowds.

Chicago opened to glorious reviews and Chita and Gwen Verdon were the toast of Broadway (1975). Both received Tony nominations as Best Actress. During the run of Chicago, Chita co-starred with Liza Minnelli for the first time, when Ms. Minnelli subbed for five weeks for an ailing Gwen Verdon.

Chita’s fourth and fifth Tony nominations as Best Actress came in the early 80’s with her performances opposite Donald O’Connor in Bring Back Birdie and then as the Evil Queen in Merlin, opposite Doug Henning. But it was not until 1984, when she re-united with Liza Minnelli in John Kander and Fred Ebb’s new musical, The Rink, that Chita finally won her Tony as Best Actress, along with the Drama Desk Award. Chita returned to Broadway again shortly after The Rink in Jerry’s Girls, co-starring with Leslie Uggams and Dorothy Loudon. In 1988, Chita toured the country (and Japan) in Can-Can, co-starring the Radio City Musical Hall Rockettes. In 2003 she received her sixth Tony nomination for Nine.

Chita’s critically-acclaimed concert dates continued to play to ovations from packed houses around the world in such cities as New York, London, Monte Carlo, Los Angeles, Tokyo, Toronto, Amsterdam, San Francisco, Cannes, Chicago and San Juan among many others.

Chita has been seen regularly on television, beginning with early appearances on every major show emanating from New York including Dinah Shore, Garry Moore, Judy Garland, Carol Burnett and Ed Sullivan. Other television credits include Will & Grace, Pippin (Showtime), Kennedy Center Tonight, Broadway Plays Washington, her own Chita Plus Three (HBO), The New Dick Van Dyke Show and Live From Wolftrap. Chita is also particularly proud of her participation in the National Theater of the Deaf’s presentation of The Road to Cordoba.

Photo by Laura Marie Duncan

Chita, who now lives in Westchester County, New York, names her daughter, singer/dancer/choreographer, Lisa Mordente, as her most treasured production.

On Thursday, February 17, you can catch Chita live on stage in a special edition of “Jim Caruso’s Cast Party” at Town Hall in New York City (123 West 43rd Street) as a special benefit for Broadway Cares/Equity Fights AIDS along with Christopher Sieber, Sally Mayes, Marilyn Maye, YouTube sensation “Miranda Sings,” jazz singer Hilary Kole, R&B tenor William Blake, jazz violinist Aaron Weinstein, Natalie Douglas, Klea Blackhurst, acrobat and comedian Rudi Macaggi, and the Dueling Fiddlers. For tickets, click here!

1. Who or what inspired you to become a performer? My mother Katherine.

2. Who is the one person you haven’t worked with that you would like to? Carlos Santana.

3. What do you get from performing in a concert that you don’t get from performing in a Broadway show? A more personal intimate relationship with the audience.

4. What’s your proudest moment? Receiving the Presidential Medal Of Freedom from President Barrack Obama, it was thrilling just to meet them.

5. Was there ever a time you thought about quitting? If so, what career would you have chosen? No, but if so, working with children around the world.

6. Favorite place to rehearse/practice for a show/concert on your own? Ripley Greer, 35th and 8th Ave.

7. Favorite way to stay in shape? Take class, and exercise with a fellow dancer.

8. Favorite skin care product? Leaf and Rusher skin care.

9. Favorite website? Don’t use a computer.

10.What’s the best advice you’ve ever received? ” Stay in your own lane, focus and enjoy your work, given by my dearest friend Fred Ebb.

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Eve Plumb as "Miss Abigail" Photo By Carol Rosegg

Tonight I had the opportunity to see “Miss Abigail’s Guide To Dating, Mating, and Marriage” for a second time, but the first time since it officially opened. Written by Ken Davenport and Sarah Saltzberg and starring Eve Plumb (“Jan Brady” from “The Brady Bunch, “Fudge’s Mother” on “Fudge”) as “Miss Abigail” and Manuel Herrera (“Legally Blond” and “West Side Story” on Broadway) as her ever so faithful assistant “Paco,” “Miss Abigail’s Guide To Dating, Mating, and Marriage” takes the audience on an interactive ride through dating, mating, and marriage tips, rituals, and techniques.

Photo By Carol Rosegg

Eve Plumb as "Miss Abigail" & Manuel Herrera as "Paco" Photo By Carol Rosegg

“Miss Abigail” demonstrates her techniques on how to flirt and attract the person you are interested in…whether it’s showing them your “This seat is available” look or seductively licking the “milk mustache” off of your lips or telling them their shoulders look tense and giving them a little massage, “Miss Abigail’s” advice my seem old fashioned, but is still quite relevant today (I have tried several of her techniques and have had great success). As “Miss Abigail” and “Paco” say in the show, “Sometimes you have to go backwards to go forwards.” There to assist “Miss Abigail’s” every need is her ever faithful assistant “Paco” who not only helps demonstrates these techniques, but tries to use a few of them himself! Always wanting to make sure “Miss Abigail” looks her best, “Paco” does whatever it takes to make that happen, even if that means being the bunt of the joke himself!

The chemistry between Eve and Manuel has really grown much stronger since I saw the show this past fall. Not only do they play off of the audience, but they really play off of each other really well, sometimes leaving the audience wondering, “Was that part of the show?” This fun and very entertaining show is so worth it. I have now left this show smiling, feel better than before I went in, and always being reminded that love is possible…I just have to try different techniques along the way!

Photo By Carol Rosegg

"Love, Lust, or Stalking" Photo By Carol Rosegg

If you’re looking for the perfect “date” show, girls night out, anniversary celebration, or just an evening of pure delight, then I would highly suggest checking out “Miss Abigail’s Guide To Dating, Mating, and Marriage” playing at Sophia’s Downstairs Theater (221 West 46th Street, between Broadway & 8th Ave). If you enter discount code DATING after you click on the performance you want to see, you can get discounted tickets for just $45! (Regular price: $75)

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Manuel Herrera is an actor on the rise! His Broadway credits include “West Side Story,” “Legally Blonde,” “Sweet Charity,” “Wicked,” and “The Music Man.” Off-Broadway, Manuel has been seen in “The Seven” while film audiences have seen him in “Sex and the City 2” as “Sergio.” Manuel’s numerous commercial work includes Mohegan Sun, Joe Boxer, Winterfresh Gum, Mervyns, and Optimum Online. Now Manuel can be seen starring alongside Eve Plumb (the original “Jan Brady”) in the hilarious new musical comedy “Miss Abigail’s Guide to Dating, Mating, and Marriage!” at Sofia’s Downstairs Theatre in NYC (221 West 46th Street, between Broadway and & 8th Ave).

1. Who inspired you to become a performer? I would have to say %100 Michael Jackson.

2. Who is the one person you haven’t worked with that you would like to? Wow, thats hard!! I guess, I would have to say Joe Mantello. I know I’ve worked with him before, but I’ve never worked with him on a play, and that’s what I would really want to do.

3. If you couldn’t be doing what you are doing now, what career would you choose? Probably real-estate, I really enjoy it. I think I would be more of a flipper, than a realtor though.

4. Do you have any strange or unusual talent that nobody knows about? I haven’t done it in a while, but I guess I would have to say drawing. When I was younger I won an award at the Metropolitan Museum of Art, for a drawing that I did.

5. Favorite meal off the $1 menu? I’m not a big fast food person anymore, but if I were gonna do it I would get Chicken McNuggets!!

6. Favorite skin care product? I really like that Anthony’s skin care line for men. Especially the after shave in-grown hair cream.

7. Favorite way to stay in shape? Going to the gym, and doing the Body-For-Life routine mixed with interval training cardio exercises, and throwing in different things I see in Mens Health.

8. Boxers or Briefs? Calvin Klein briefs for sure.

9. Favorite website? Probably Petfinder.com, and of course missabigailsguide.com!!!

10. Superman or Wonder Woman? Superman! 1. Because, I don’t know much about Wonder Woman, and B. Because, I’ve always wanted to look like a muscle man.

BONUS QUESTIONS:

11. What’s the best advice you’ve ever received? “Be in the moment” (That’s for all facets of life. It’s not just an acting thing).

12. If you could dream about anyone while you sleep, who would it be? I’m lucky because she sleeps with me every night, I don’t have to dream. My Wife!!!

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If you are looking for a performer with strong vocals, good looks, and most of all talent, then Curtis Holbrook is your guy! A performer on the definite rise, Curtis has delighted Broadway audiences in “Xanadu,” “Follies,” “All Shook Up,” “The Boy From Oz,” “Taboo,” “Fosse,” and “Footloose,” and the current Broadway revival of “West Side Story.”  His Off-Broadway credits include “Saved!” at Playwrights Horizon and “Radiant Baby” at the Public Theater. Curtis has also lit up the screen in such films and television shows as “Hairspray,” “Across the Universe,” “Law and Order: SVU,” “Sesame Street,” “All My Children,” and “As The World Turns.” Curtis can currently be seen in “Frog Kiss” (along with fellow “Adaumbelle’s Quest” participant Kate Pazakis) produced by Brierpatch Productions as part of the NYMF festival from September 30-October 11 at the Theater at St. Clements (423 West 46th Street).

1. Who inspired you to become a performer? First, I would have to say my mother…Because she put in me in tap class at the age of 2 🙂 But when I was old enough to know what being inspired was, I saw Gene Kelly and Donald O’Connor in Singin’ in the Rain. That moment was truly magical for me. I was hooked.

2. What is the highest and lowest note you can sing? I don’t actually read sheet music…I do everything by ear. I try not to think about what notes I am singing because it can mess with your head, ya know?…But I think when we filmed Across the Universe I sang a high D.

3. Who is the one person you haven’t worked with that you would like to? Just one? There are so many!!! Well even though it isn’t possible…Bob Fosse. His way of storytelling is like no other.

4. If you couldn’t be doing what you are doing now, what career would you choose? Marine Biology.

5. Do you have any rituals that you must do before a show? Depends on the show… Usually, I listen to music that could be the soundtrack of the characters life… That helps to get me focused and fired up. How do you decompress after a show? An adult beverage.

6. Do you have any strange or unusual talent that nobody knows about? Hand Farting.

7. Favorite ride at an amusement park? All of them! The X Factor @ Magic Mountain might be my favorite though.

8. Favorite way to stay in shape? Really just by doing what I do…and Yoga. I don’t do gyms.

9. Boxers or Briefs? Really??? If you must know…square cut boxer briefs. So both!

10. Favorite website? YouTube.

11. Superman or Wonder Woman? Batman.

BONUS QUESTIONS:

12. What’s the best advice you’ve ever received? My Grandfather always told me…”Think For Yourself.”

13. If you could dream about anyone while you sleep, who would it be? My wife 🙂

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On Monday, April 19, 2010, I attended the Broadway Beauty Pageant at Symphony Space in NYC which crowns one of five chorus boys “Mr. Broadway.”  Directed by Ryan J. Davis & conceived by Jeffrey Self, all proceeds support The Ali Forney Center, dedicated to providing shelter & guidence to GLBT youth who have no where to go because their families have turned their backs on them for being gay. Many of the youth who have benefited from the center’s services have now been able to thrive & succeed, from graduating college to getting an internship at CNN. The Ali Forney Center has so much to offer, but have turn hundreds away because all of their beds are occupied. If you are looking to help a truly wonderful organization, consider donating to the Ali Forney Center & help them continue to help the youth of today.

The Broadway Beauty Pageant has contestants participate in 3 categories: talent, interview, & swimsuit competition. In addition to audience votes, there is a celebrity host and judges. Tonight’s event was hosted by Tony Award Nominee Tovah Feldshuh (my post show interview with her will be going up soon), who kept the night moving along with her quick wit and humor! The celebrity judges consisted of Tony Award Winner Christine Ebersole, Tony Award Nominee Charles Busch as well as Villiage Voice Michael Musto (who was a last minute replacement for Jackie Hoffman who due to a scheduling conflict, couldn’t attend).

The contestants consisted of Eddie Pendergraft (Wicked), Rickey Tripp (In The Heights), Wes Hart (West Side Story), Charlie Williams (Memphis), & Daniel Soto (Fela). The evening started off with the talent portion & talent is what these guys have…Eddie sang his own rendition of Meatloaf’s “I Would Do Anyhing For Love, But I Won’t Do That” complete with his own incredibly drawn pictures to illustrate his points. Rickey did Monique’s monologue from “Precious” which at first had people laughing, because of his shirtless physique & shiny gold shorts, but shortly after he started, the audience was captivated so much that you could hear a pin drop. Wes sang an acoustic medley of Lady Gaga’s “Poker Face,” “Bad Romance,” and “Paparazzi.” Charlie showed off both his talent of rhythm & rhyme by first rapping about who he was and then morphing into a flashy interpretive dance, while Daniel did a moving intrpretive dance about fear. Next was the interview portion where the contestants answered various questions from the judges including how they arrived in New York. The evening ended with the hot & hunky men in a swimsuit competition. Let me tell you, those boys define sexiness!

The votes got tallied and the 2010 “Mr. Broadway” title went to Mr. Memphis himself, Charlie Williams! To see Charlie strut his stuff, treat yourself to an evening at the Broadway hit “Memphis.”

If you weren’t able to make it this year to the Broadway Beauty Pageant, I highly recommend attending next year! It’s a fun time while supporting a very worthy cause.

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Check out this BRILLIANT AND SEXY new TV ad for the Broadway revival of “West Side Story”:

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Natascia DiazTwo on the Aisle, 3 in a VanBe sure to catch fellow “Adaumbelle’s Quest” participant Natascia Diaz starring in the NYC International Fringe Festival “Two on the Aisle, 3 in a Van from August 16-29. For tickets and show times visit:http://2ontheaisle3inavan.com/

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