‘Dancer’s Life’ began in D.C.

  • The Washington Examiner
  • |
  • January 13, 2006

by Karen Feld

Chita Rivera, who grew up right here in D.C. at 2134 Flagler St. NW, where as a kid she danced on her family’s kitchen table, told me that she still has a “warm” spot for her hometown. Everyone loves Chita, including yours truly. We became friends three years ago when she received the Kennedy Center Honor. Even our dogs (her Maltese, Casper) began corresponding and played as we talked in her dressing room at Broadway’s Schoenfeld Theatre yesterday after “The Dancer’s Life,” her high-energy, song-and-dance Broadway bio. This dynamo, who turns 73 later this month, is singing and dancing – with 16 pins in her left leg as a result of an accident nearly 20 years ago – like those half her age.

Chita cherishes honor

She’s received multiple Tonys and other prestigious awards, but the show is built around the one that is most important to her – the Kennedy Center Honor. “The Kennedy Center Honor was a big deal,” Chita told me. “That’s why [writer] Terrence [McNally] built this biographical show around it.”

The show is about how we change, and how we don’t, as time passes. Chita, the youngster on Flagler Street, was somehow the same Chita talking to the president at the White House during Kennedy Center Honors weekend. Her life, which she dubs, “a lovely ride,” begins in D.C. where young Conchita took dance with Doris Jones, who said she had “guts” and “an attitude.”

Chita’s mentors

She talked about “learning precision like a surgeon with a scalpel” and “the importance of a word” early on when she worked with Elaine Stritch, who’s currently performing at New York’s Cafe Carlyle. But her true mentor was Gwen Verdon.

Chita talking about theater today: “Helicopters and falling objects are great, but not as great as the human body and a great choreographer.” Choreographer Bob Fosse taught Chita Rivera that “less is more.” She was referring to the flick of a wrist or the pelvis. “You’re looking at the human body through a microscope.”

Who you dance with counts

“In this business it’s not who you sleep with, but it’s who you dance with,” Chita says. But when it came to “Mr. Wonderful,” Sammy Davis, she was fortunate, she says, to have had an affair and dance with him.

Giving back

Chita has a total commitment to the stage, and compares stage to film. “In our line of work, you have to be there,” Chita said. “You do the work for that one person out there whose life will be forever changed. I think it’s time to give back.” That she does. I was surprised to speak to several young women in the audience who were awed by the show. “They get it,” Chita told me. If you’re in New York, don’t miss this multitalented dame in “The Dancer’s Life.”

Blogging senator

Sen. Patrick Leahy, D-Vt., broke cover with the media at the end of Sam Alito’s confirmation hearings yesterday. He admitted he’s a blogger on his Web site, and a closet photographer aligning with the Nikon cameramen and women in front of him. The former law enforcement officer’s favorite subjects to photograph? What else, his grandchildren.

Leonard’s firsthand encounterÂ

“I got in the ring with Jimmy [Lange] for three rounds to see how good he was,” Sugar Ray Leonard told me about the local fighter on NBC’s “The Contender.” “He reminds me of Thomas ‘Hitman’ Hearns who was a world champ in different weight classifications. He’s quick. He’s powerful, and in my opinion, he will become champion in whichever weight classification he decides on.” Currently, Lange is fighting at 147, welterweight. He fights at the Patriot Center at George Mason University in Fairfax on Feb. 18 for the middleweight title.

Nichols may direct political thriller

Director Mike Nichols is in discussions to direct “Charlie Wilson’s War” for Universal Pictures. The book written by “60 Minutes” producer George Crile is based on former Rep. Charlie Wilson‘s, D-Texas, adventures with a CIA operative in assisting the Afghan rebels in their fight against the soviets in the ’80s. Tom Hanks, who optioned the book, is producing the film based on a screenplay adapted by “West Wing” creator Aaron Sorkin.

Refunds for fiction

Readers who want fact not fiction say that Random House is providing full refunds in the wake of the unanswered charges made by the Smoking Gun earlier this week for “A Million Little Pieces,” by James Frey. The book sold 1.77 million books after Oprah picked his book as a selection in September.

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