Born to Dance

A Broadway legends pays tribute to herself.

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In theater lingo, Chita Rivera is what’s known as a triple threat -- one of those rare performers who can act, sing, and dance with equal skill. In Chita Rivera: The Dancer’s Life -- Terrence McNally’s 2005 musical that celebrates Rivera’s long career -- the spotlight shines brightest on one of those talents. “There aren’t many true dance shows out there anymore,” says Mentor native Jennifer Savelli, a former Rockette and Pennsylvania Ballet member who joins Rivera onstage as part of the tour’s ensemble. “This one is the real deal.” The Dancer’s Life begins a 12-day run at Playhouse Square tonight.

As the show’s title hints, Rivera (who’s won two Tony Awards) wasn’t always a leading lady. If she hadn’t auditioned for a Broadway musical on a whim way back in 1952, she might have ended up a ballerina. She was spotted by Call Me Madam choreographer Jerome Robbins and went on to Great White Way fame. Rivera, 73, is still going strong all these years later. It’s almost impossible to think of musicals like West Side Story, Chicago, and Kiss of the Spider Woman without thinking of the characters she brought to life.

The Dancer’s Life chronicles the many steps along the way, with Rivera reenacting scenes from her most famous roles. Savelli finds it inspiring. She recalls hearing Rivera sing “All That Jazz” on record when she was a little girl; now she can hardly believe she’s standing onstage next to her idol night after night. “She’s such a role model for us dancers,” she says. “We can all only hope to be like her.”
Tuesdays-Fridays, 7:30 p.m.; Saturdays, 1:30 & 7:30 p.m.; Sundays, 1 & 6 p.m. Starts: Feb. 13. Continues through Feb. 25

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