Entertainment Theater

Chita Rivera, Discovering Her Voice

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Sure, the legs. Sure, the road. Sure, the look.

But additionally, much less commented on, the voice.

Chita Rivera, who died on Tuesday at 91, was a Broadway star so long as anybody — and perhaps longer. At first, making her means up within the Nineteen Fifties, from the refrain of “Guys and Dolls” to Anita in “West Facet Story,” dancing was her calling card. Within the ’60s and ’70s, comedy and satire adopted, with “Bye Bye Birdie” and “Chicago.” Later, in works like “The Rink” (1984), “Kiss of the Spider Lady” (1993) and “The Go to” (2015), her sense of drama prevailed.

But for me, it’s her voice that continues to be indelible.

It virtually didn’t emerge. Again when she began, dancers stayed in their very own lane. (There have been usually separate ensembles for dancers and singers.) Like many individuals exceptionally intent on mastery, Rivera was single-minded. At her audition for the College of American Ballet at 15, she saved tossing off fouetté turns regardless of a burst blister that was bleeding via her toe shoe. George Balanchine himself dressed the wound. (She was accepted.)

Mastery isn’t what she felt about her singing. As she relates in “Chita: A Memoir,” written with Patrick Pacheco, she at all times “hung again” when solid members went out after reveals to drink and flirt and belt out present tunes. However whereas she was on tour with “Name Me Madam” within the early Nineteen Fifties, a piano participant at a theatrical hangout in Chicago overheard her and supplied classes. “Chita, you possibly can sing,” he stated.

“I may sing? Actually? That was information to me.”

There are singers who ensure that it’s information — they’re nice. After which there are those that simply sing naturally, with little break from their talking voices. Rivera, maybe as a result of she at first felt much less assured in track than in motion, by no means obtained fussy in regards to the border between dialogue and lyrics. She plowed proper previous it, sounding precisely alike in each: barely reedy, husky but clarion, unaffected however stuffed with remark and character.