Remembering Chita Rivera's Life Through Her Iconic Broadway Roles

Chita Rivera was known for lighting up the stage in 'West Side Story,' 'Chicago,' 'Bye Bye Birdie' and other iconic Broadway shows. See her career in photos

<p>Everett </p> Chita Rivera in


Chita Rivera in 'West Side Story'

The lights on Broadway are a little less bright tonight, as the theater world mourns the death of stage legend Chita Rivera.

The actress died on Jan. 30, 2024, at 91 years old.

Throughout her career, the star brought her talents to a host of iconic roles, including Anita in West Side Story, Velma Kelly in Chicago and the titular Spider Woman in Kiss of the Spider Woman. She also made her mark on the big and small screens, and earned accolades including three Tony Awards and a Kennedy Center Honor along the way.

Here, look back on some of Chita Rivera's career highlights in photos.

'West Side Story'

<p>Keystone/Hulton Archive/Getty</p> Chita Rivera in 'West Side Story'

Keystone/Hulton Archive/Getty

Chita Rivera in 'West Side Story'

Rivera famously originated the role of Anita in West Side Story in 1957, the part that launched her into superstardom.

"It was the excitement of the creation of the show, watching Leonard Bernstein setting down notes that would later be heard and loved by everyone, and watching Jerome Robbins suddenly come up with a masterful step that would later become known as an integral part of the performance," Rivera shared of the highlights in an interview with On Broadway Tonight.

She performed through much of her pregnancy with her only child, daughter Lisa Mordente.

'Bye Bye Birdie'

<p>Everett </p> Chita Rivera and Dick van Dyke in 'Bye Bye Birdie'


Chita Rivera and Dick van Dyke in 'Bye Bye Birdie'

Rivera earned her first Tony nomination in 1960 for her role as Rose in Bye Bye Birdie. In the musical she starred opposite Dick van Dyke; the two would form a lifelong friendship from their time together, and she'd later appear on his New Dick Van Dyke Show in the '70s.

'Sweet Charity'

<p>Everett </p> Chita Rivera in 'Sweet Charity'


Chita Rivera in 'Sweet Charity'

Rivera's work extended to movies, too, notably in 1969's Sweet Charity alongside Paula Kelly and Shirley MacLaine.

"I’ll never forget an instance with Shirley MacLaine when we were filming the movie Sweet Charity," Rivera recalled to the Harvard Business Review. "She was the star, so [director and choreographer Bob Fosse] told us that he would use the take that was her best and we needed to make sure we were perfect every time.

"On the last take, which was Shirley’s best, I had twisted my body just a bit and afterward said under my breath, 'Darn it.' Shirley heard me and asked what was wrong. Whispering, I said, 'I just didn’t do that right.' Then she went to Fosse and said, 'You know, I’d like to do that take over.' And we did."


Uli Weber Chita Rivera in 'Chicago'
Uli Weber Chita Rivera in 'Chicago'

Rivera originated the role of Velma Kelly in the 1975 production of Chicago on Broadway, and 25 years later, she returned, this time as Roxie Hart — playing the part in Toronto, Las Vegas, and London.

She also had a blink-and-you'll-miss-it cameo in the 2002 film version of the musical.

'Kiss of the Spider Woman'

<p>Alamy</p> Chita Rivera in 'Kiss of the Spider Woman'


Chita Rivera in 'Kiss of the Spider Woman'

Rivera won her second best actress in a musical Tony Award for her work as Aurora, the fantastical "Spider Woman" of a man's dreams in 1993's Kiss of the Spider Woman. (Her first award was for 1984's The Rink.)

Composer John Kander and lyricist Fred Ebb "were great friends, and they believed in me," Rivera told the Harvard Business Review. "I didn’t have the role initially. It was given to another actress before Broadway. But even though she was a great singer and actress, she couldn’t dance, and one critic said in his review, 'Why don’t they get Chita Rivera?' And I almost hit my head: 'Why didn’t I think of that?' I finally did get the part, thanks to God, and history was made."

'The Dancer's Life'

<p>Jemal Countess/WireImage</p> Chita Rivera in 'The Dancer's Life'

Jemal Countess/WireImage

Chita Rivera in 'The Dancer's Life'

Rivera was so beloved that she performed in her own show, Chita Rivera: The Dancer's Life, on Broadway from 2005 to 2006. The musical — a history of her roles and the choreographers behind some of the major moments — earned her her ninth Tony nomination.

'The Visit'

<p>Jason Smith/Everett </p> Chita Rivera in 'The Visit'

Jason Smith/Everett

Chita Rivera in 'The Visit'

Rivera's final Broadway role was in 2015's short-lived The Visit, in which she starred as the wealthy, conniving Claire Zachanassian. Her performance earned her her 10th and final Tony Award nomination.

Three years later, she'd win her third Tony, a Lifetime Achievement Award. "I said, 'Does that mean it's all over?' " she joked when she accepted the award at the 2018 Tonys. She thanked her mother for putting her into ballet classes at a young age, which "led me here."

"I wouldn't trade my life in the theater for anything, as the theater is life," she concluded, adding, "there's still a lot of salt left in this shaker."

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