Superstar Broadway performer Chita Rivera busy as ever

A Broadway star for six decades, Chita Rivera moved from featured roles in “Can-Can” and “Mr. Wonderful” to the career-making spotlight of Anita in the original cast of “West Side Story” in 1957. Her return to the Venetian Room this weekend is being billed as “A Legendary Celebration,” and no one would dispute that except maybe the lady herself.

“I did not choose that title. I wouldn’t have used the ‘L’ word,” Rivera says. “It’s a compliment to be considered a legend but to me a legend is always an old tale. ‘Beowulf’! A fable! I just keep looking forward.”

It’s not quite the extravaganza she recently performed for Broadway Cares/Equity Fights AIDS, which raised almost half a million dollars. Ben Vereen, Tommy Tune and her six chorus boys will not be making the trip, but her songs and stories will.

“Freddy and John and Cy and Lenny are keeping me alive,” she says of musical makers Kander, Ebb, Coleman and Bernstein, whose material she’ll sing.

She wasn’t always so eager to keep repeating past glories, thinking it was egotistical.

“Freddy sat me down and really taught me a lesson in that when you have material that is wonderful and you are known for it, you have to do it. People expect it,” Rivera says. “That was a big lesson for me.”

“Now? I gotta tell ya, we do change arrangements or the lead-in story might be different, but anytime I start to sing anything from ‘Chicago’ or ‘West Side’ I am never bored with it. If I were bored with it, I just wouldn’t do it. These guys have written some wonderful stuff.”

At 81, the two-time Tony Award winner shows no sign of slowing down. She hopes to be third-time lucky this summer with a new Massachusetts production of the musical “The Visit” by Kander and Ebb at the Williamstown Theatre Festival.

“John’s excited, Graciela Danielle is excited, and I’m trying to not let myself get too excited,” she says, alluding to two previous tries that did not make it to Broadway. “I really believe in this show. Where else are you going to find a musical where two guys are castrated in the plot of the show and they sing like sopranos?”

In the meantime, she’ll continue to tour this show and get out to see new work as much as possible.

“I’m moving as fast as I can! Pretty soon I’ll be just a blur and everybody’ll say, ‘Ohmigod, you just never looked better!’” Rivera laughs. “At a certain speed the eye can’t register things anymore. That’s my theory, anyway!”

IF YOU GO

Chita Rivera: A Legendary Celebration

Presented by Bay Area Cabaret

Where: Venetian Room, Fairmont Hotel, 950 Mason St., SF

When: 3 p.m. and 7:30 p.m. Sunday

Tickets: $48

Contact: (415) 392-4400, www.bayareacabaret.org

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