As you’ll soon learn, West Side Story was brought together by some major established talent. However, the show also provided a launchpad for some very successful stage careers. One such star on the rise was Chita Rivera, a Washington, D.C. native who went on to become one of the most celebrated musical theatre performers ever. Jared Strange, dramaturg for the Teens Behind the Scenes program, had the opportunity to sit down for a Zoom interview with Chita in January of 2021. Catch their conversation about growing up in D.C., training with the best, the legacy of West Side Story, and what it means to pursue your passion.


Barack Obama places a medal with a blue ribbon on Chita Rivera.
Chita Rivera receives the Presidential Medal of Freedom from President Barack Obama (Chip Somodevilla/Getty Images).

Chita Rivera is a theatrical icon and one of Broadway’s greatest triple-threat talents. She is one of the most nominated performers in Tony Award history having earned 10 nominations, won twice and received the 2018 Special Tony Award for Lifetime Achievement in the Theatre. She trained as a ballerina (from age nine) before receiving a scholarship to the School of American Ballet from the legendary choreographer George Balanchine. Chita’s first appearance (age 17) was as a principal dancer in Call Me Madam. Her electric performance as Anita in the original Broadway premiere of West Side Story brought her stardom. Her career is highlighted by starring roles in Bye Bye Birdie, The Rink (for which she won her first Tony Award), Chicago, Jerry’s Girls, Kiss of the Spider Woman (for which she won her second Tony Award), Nine, Chita Rivera: The Dancer’s Life, and The Visit. She has headlined several concerts around the world and her career retrospective, Chita Rivera: A Lot of Livin’ to Do, was featured on PBS’s Great Performances series in 2015. Chita was awarded the coveted Kennedy Center Honor in 2002, received The Presidential Medal of Freedom from President Barack Obama in 2009, and was honored as a Living Landmark by the New York Landmarks Conservancy in 2018. For all her success, her most treasured production is her daughter, singer/dancer/choreographer Lisa Mordente.