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Musical professionals often speak of the rare “triple threat,” the performers who are supremely talented as singers, dancers, and actors. But there are just a handful who are genuine quadruple threats, who make the singing, dancing, and acting organic, each element perfectly integrated to tell the story. Listen to her on Broadway’s original cast recording of West Side StoryThe role would win two actresses Oscars. Her “A boy like that” is heart-rending, as much for the acting as singing. Every note, every lyric, and the emotion of that moment are perfectly captured in music. Her dancing was no different. It was the same with her dancing.

Chita Rivera, born Dolores Conchita Figueroa del Rivero Anderson, was born in Washington, D.C., to a Puerto Rican dad and a mother with Scottish, Irish, African American, and Irish heritage. She was so energetic as a child that after she broke a table in her home her mother signed her up for dance lessons, telling her, “I’m putting you in ballet class so that we can rein in some of that energy.” Just a few years later, she was spotted by George Balanchine, who brought a friend to New York for her to complete her classical dance training. But when she accompanied her friend to a Broadway audition for an Irving Berlin musical, Call Me MadamShe was the one chosen. When she tried to understudy Gwen Verdun in her audition, the leading lady called and told her to go to her dressing-room to tell her that she had to play leads. Verdun, her mentor and role model was her greatest inspiration and it was one her greatest thrills for her to star with Verdun in Chicago. She appeared in at the very least one major Broadway Musical every decade for 70 years.

In an interview with Eddie Shapiro, for his book on Broadway stars There’s Nothing Like a Dame, Ms. Rivera credited Jerome RobbinsShe credited him with teaching her how to act by asking her to imagine Anita as colors and textures. His assistant, Jerry Friedman told her to remember her brother when she sang of the death of Bernardo. She described watching from the wings. Elaine StritchGwen Verdun and others and said that she was constantly observing all those around her to learn as much as possible.


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