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New York City Theater

"Chita Rivera: The Dancer's Life"
Schoenfeld Theater

Did we really need the shoddy, shallow, slight "The Dancer’s Life" to secure Chita Rivera's place in the firmament? Since "West Side Story," where her singing and dancing "America" and "A Boy Like That" set the house on fire, she has shown she can be mocking and poignant and altogether memorable in a series of musicals. Think of "“Kiss of the Spider Woman," "Bye Bye Birdie," "Chicago," "Nine." The woman has been phenomenal and remains irresistible.

In her latest Broadway outing, she gives us only snippets of those successes, intermixed with songs not associated with her like "More Than You Know," which comes out of nowhere. We want a meal; we get hors d'ouevres. Whom to blame? Writer Terrence McNally? Director/choreographer Graciela Daniele? The unnecessary new songs by Lynn Ahrens and Stephen Flaherty?

In between the musical numbers, we learn basic facts: her Washington D.C. childhood as Dolores Conchita Figueroa del Rivero, early dreams of becoming a dancer, first shows, co-stars (the incomparable Gwen Verdon, the difficult Liza Minnelli). The evening is bookended by a visit to the White House to receive a Kennedy Center honor and highlighted by a wonderful routine in which she zips through the various styles of major choreographers.

She also dances, after a fashion. Actually, she swishes her skirt a lot, is partnered in a tango and backed by nine talented youngsters. Bits with the accomplished Lina Ortiz, first as her younger alter-ego, then as her daughter, are charming. But our Chita, bless her, is better than this marshmallow evening.

-- David A. Rosenberg
Dec. 26, 2005

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