Chita Rivera began her ballet training at age eleven in her native Washington, D.C. After moving to New York with her family five years later, her career began when she auditioned for famed choreographer George Balanchine. Chita won a scholarship from "Mr. B." to the American School of Ballet, and began taking classes with dancers like Edward Villella, Melissa Hayden, Allegra Kent and Maria Tallchief. One day the budding ballerina accompanied a friend who went to audition for a chorus role in Call Me Madam. Chita won the role instead. Ballet lost and Broadway gained the 17-year-old who would make theatre history.
After completing a cross-country tour of Call Me Madam as a principal dancer, she returned to New York to replace Onna White as a principal dancer in Guys and Dolls. Chita then went on to appear in the original Broadway production of Can-Can in which her future co-star, Gwen Verdon, first achieved stardom. Chita went Off-Broadway to prove she could do more than dance, and did so with her amazing performance in Ben Bagley's Shoestring Revue (in which she did a devastating Marilyn Monroe impersonation). This talented company also included Beatrice Arthur and Arte Johnson. Chita then returned to Broadway as a featured performer in Seventh Heaven choreographed by Peter Gennaro and Mr. Wonderful which starred Sammy Davis Jr. Then Chita Rivera made theatrical history with her performance as Anita in West Side Story. After opening night (September 26, 1957) Chita was a Broadway star. She attained London stardom in the same role after "time out" for the birth of her daughter Lisa Mordente. Chita had married Tony Mordente, who played Arab in West Side Story, during the Broadway run. The London opening was postponed until Chita could join the company. After a year as the toast of London, Chita returned to Broadway to star opposite Dick Van Dyke in Bye Bye Birdie -- the musical in which she led the show stopping "Shriners' Ballet." Then it was back to Her Majesty's Theatre in London, scene of her West Side Story triumph, to repeat her role as Rosie in the British production of Birdie. Next came a triumph as Jenny in the national tour of Threepenny Opera, closely followed by the title role in Bob Fosse's Sweet Charity national tour. It was while making the film version of Charity (in which she played Nicky opposite Shirley McLaine) that Chita fell in love with Los Angeles and made it her home base for the next seven years.
But she frequently left home: Chita played Billie Dawn in Born Yesterday, was Serafina in The Rose Tattoo, toured opposite John Raitt in Zorba and extended her range in such productions as Kiss Me Kate opposite Hal Linden, Jacques Brel, and Oliver Hailey's Father's Day. Chita had been away from Broadway for eight years, too long for fans and friends such as Fred Ebb, John Kander and Bob Fosse who lured her back to star as Velma Kelly opposite Gwen Verdon in the smash hit musical Chicago.
As soon as she arrived in New York, Chita learned that the show's rehearsals were postponed because Fosse was ill. Her pal Fred Ebb, who had written her highly successful nightclub act in the '60s, went to work on another act in the meantime. The new act opened at New York's Grand Finale to rave reviews and capacity crowds. The Times called Chita "The most exciting nightclub performer in the business; a singer who essays a ballad with consummate skill and has a sense of humor!" Chicago opened to glorious reviews, and all was smooth until Gwen Verdon's departure from the cast for five weeks. It was then that Chita first worked with Liza Minnelli who had stepped in for Miss Verdon. A little later Chita starred opposite Donald O'Connor in the Birdie sequel Bring Back Birdie and then as the Evil Queen in Merlin. She gained her fourth and fifth Tony Award nominations for those performances.
1984 brought Chita back together again on Broadway with Liza in The Rink, and it was for that performance that the long awaited Tony Award came, as did the Drama Desk Award. Not long after that Chita starred on Broadway in Jerry's Girls with Leslie Uggams and Dorothy Louden. In January of '88 Chita did a national tour of Can-Can co-starring no less than the Radio City Musical Hall Rockettes. Chita's club act and concert dates continue to play to outstanding reviews and ovations from packed houses. Recently she did a sold out, smash hit engagement at Miami's Coconut Grove, rivaled only by her glorious gig at L.A.'s Westwood Playhouse that was extended twice, closing in January of '92. Chita began her television career by appearing on every major show emanating from New York including the Dinah Shore, Gary Moore and Ed Sullivan shows. She has amassed an impressive list of TV credits including the Showtime special presentation of Pippin, Kennedy Center Tonight, Broadway Plays Washington', her own Chita Plus Three and a terrific edition of Live From Wolftrap. Chita is especially proud of her participation in the National Theatre of the Deaf s presentation of The Road to Cordoba. Recipient of numerous awards and honors, and star of many theatre, nightclub and television productions, Chita Rivera, who now makes her home in Westchester, NY, names her daughter, Lisa Mordente, as her most treasured production.