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  • Writer's pictureThe San Juan Daily Star

Tributes pour in to Chita Rivera on Broadway, where she reigned

Amra-Faye Wright, sixth from left,with the rest of the cast of “Chicago” as they pay tribute to Chita Rivera during curtain call at the Ambassador Theatre in New York, Jan. 30, 2024. Onstage and off, Rivera was celebrated as a pathbreaking triple-threat who left a huge legacy in musical theater and dance. (Jeenah Moon/The New York Times)

By Michael Paulson and Emmanuel Morgan

Chita Rivera created several memorable Broadway characters that are now considered part of the canon, including the role of Velma Kelly in the original production of “Chicago.” So when the cast of the long-running Broadway revival took to the stage of the Ambassador Theater in New York on Tuesday night just a few hours after her death was announced, it was only natural that they would pay tribute to her.

After the performance, the cast assembled onstage as Amra-Faye Wright, who plays Kelly now, recalled Rivera as a “Broadway giant,” who championed other dancers.

“I feel still an impostor in the role because it belonged to Chita Rivera,” Wright said, as cast members dabbed their eyes. “She created it. She starred in the original production of ‘Chicago’ and she lives on constantly in our hearts, on this stage, in every performance. We love you, Chita.”

Rivera’s death Tuesday at the age of 91 inspired an outpouring of testimonials from fans and colleagues, elected officials and stars of stage and screen, who recalled her as a pathbreaking triple threat who left a huge legacy in musical theater and dance.

On Instagram, Lin-Manuel Miranda, a composer, writer and actor, described Rivera as “The trailblazer for Puerto Rico on Broadway,” using an emoji of the Puerto Rican flag, and called her “an absolute original.”

Miranda was among several who highlighted the symbolic importance of Rivera’s Puerto Rican heritage. Rita Moreno, who won an Oscar playing Anita in “West Side Story” (the role that was Rivera’s breakout performance on Broadway), paid tribute in an emailed statement, saying: “I remember seeing her for the first time in ‘Mr. Wonderful’ and exclaiming, ‘Oh my god, who IS that?’ When I found out that this astonishing creature was one of my people, I crowed with pride.”

And Rep. Nydia Velázquez, D-N.Y., who was the first Puerto Rican woman elected to the House, posted on social media that Rivera “took pride in her Puerto Rican heritage and helped pave the way for other Latina artists.”

Many of Rivera’s fellow leading ladies — the women most celebrated by Broadway fans — also paid tribute to her.

“I always thought she’d live forever,” Audra McDonald wrote on Instagram. “She was more than life and life itself.” Laura Benanti called Rivera “the brightest star in the galaxy, the hardest worker in the room, the funniest and warmest person at every table.” And Bernadette Peters, in an emailed statement, said: “She was an amazing talent and vibrant fun person. She was a great star up til the very end.”

Actor Harvey Fierstein recalled starting as a fan — he still remembers as a child seeing her in “Bye Bye Birdie” — and then becoming close after she came to see him in “Torch Song Trilogy.”

“She was so exciting onstage — she was funny, she was dramatic and she could do it all,” Fierstein said in a telephone interview. “She was, for me, a mentor, a great friend and one of the people that I adored most. She was a good-time gal, but she also was the hardest-working woman ever — she loved it, and she would do more if she could.”v

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