‘Tony Awards’ special honors a Broadway icon
Chita Rivera is a true Broadway icon, but earlier in her career, she was shaping up to be the Susan Lucci of the Tony Awards. She went home empty-handed with her first four nominations, a record so disheartening good friends John Kander and Fred Ebb wrote her a novelty song. It was called – what else? – “Losing.’’
She had to drop that song from her repertoire, though, when she won the 1984 Tony for Kander and Ebb’s “The Rink,’’ followed by another for the same team’s “Kiss of the Spider Woman’’ in 1993.
On Sunday, June 10, during CBS’ live telecast of “The 72nd Annual Tony Awards,’’ Rivera – along with British composer Andrew Lloyd Webber – will receive a special Tony Award for lifetime achievement in the theater. Even for Rivera, whose long list of accolades include the Kennedy Center Honors and the Presidential Medal of Freedom, this latest award is humbling, she says.
“It kind of makes me feel as if God is tapping me on the shoulder and saying, ‘You did good, kid,’ “ the actress says. “It’s a reminder of the many wonderful years and the shows and the many amazing people I’ve learned from. I feel as if I’m made up of all those people I’ve worked with: the Jerome Robbinses and the Michael Kidds and the Jack Coles, all the people who helped me paint my painting.”
At 85, Rivera shows no signs of slowing down. As recently as 2015, she picked up her 10th Tony nomination for the Broadway musical “The Visit,’’ a record she shares with the late Julie Harris. She says she’s still ready and eager for that eight-performances-a-week grind.
“Oh, my God, yes!” she says. “It only keeps you healthier. The more you keep that brain working, the more you keep your body moving, the happier your whole universe will be. I truly believe that. … You should still be contributing, to be telling those stories. That contact with the human race is an extraordinary thing.”
Well, usually, at least. The fan mania for selfies occasionally can be a nuisance, she acknowledges.
“Occasionally it can get a little intrusive, but it’s also up to you to set the stage for how you want it to be,” Rivera says. “I hate that selfie thing, to be honest. I much prefer just to talk to people, but it’s all right with me, as long as they ask first if it’s OK for them to take a picture.”
She expects to be in a reflective mood on this Tony night, she adds.
“This is a business that I am grateful I was allowed in,” she says. “I don’t know what else I would have done, I love the theater so much. If I came back, if there was such a thing as reincarnation, I’d still choose the theater over any other profession.”