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Broadway legend Chita Rivera dies aged 91

NEW YORK – Chita Rivera – a singer, dancer and actress who lit up Broadway stages over six decades in such shows as West Side Story and Chicago as one of the foremost entertainers of her generation – died on Jan 30, her publicist said. She was 91.

Rivera died in New York after a “brief illness,” her daughter Lisa Mordente said in a statement released by publicist Merle Frimark.

Trained in voice, piano and ballet from a young age, Rivera was dancing on Broadway before she was 20 and kept at it all the way into her early 80s.

Rivera became one of the most nominated actors in the history of the Tony Awards, Broadway’s highest prizes – with 10 nods.

In 2002, she earned Kennedy Centre honours – a top US arts distinction – and was feted at the White House in 2009 with the presidential medal of freedom.

Sensual and with a brassy stage presence, Rivera played some of Broadway’s most acclaimed roles, and worked under legendary talents including Leonard Bernstein, Bob Fosse, Stephen Sondheim and Jerome Robbins.

She and fellow actress Rita Moreno paved the way for other stars of Puerto Rican descent, such as actor-songwriter-playwright Lin-Manuel Miranda of Hamilton fame – to conquer Broadway.

Rivera earned the breakout role in 1957 of Anita in West Side Story, the 20th century American adaptation of the Shakespeare tale Romeo And Juliet, which made her a star and earned her a first Tony nomination.

But when the film was made, the role of Anita went to Moreno. It was the first but not the last time a major Hollywood role would elude Rivera after she lit up the stage in the same part.

Broadway glory

Born at the height of the Great Depression on Jan 23, 1933, in the US capital Washington, Dolores Conchita Figueroa del Rivero was one of five children of a Catholic couple.

Her father, a Navy musician, died when she was seven.

At age 11, she enrolled in a local ballet school, and at 16 she auditioned for the renowned School of American Ballet run by George Balanchine and travelled to New York City after winning a scholarship.

After three years of training, Rivera sought small Broadway roles as a dancer.

Seeking to downplay her ethnicity, she changed her name to Chita O’Hara, before eventually settling on Chita Rivera.



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