Chita Rivera brings her cabaret act to The City. (Courtesy Laura Marie Duncan)

‘Working is the best thing’ for Chita Rivera

By the time most people see their 80s, thoughts of work are long gone and endless travel beckons. Almost seven decades after her Broadway debut, dancer-singer-actor Chita Rivera still only reads half that memo.

“I think working is the best thing for anybody,” she says in her uniquely throaty purr. “Being involved in something is a vital. It keeps you happier and sharing. I’ve got some fabulous friends and, of course, my family, so I’m busy.”

She’s also on her way back to San Francisco for four performances at Feinstein’s at the Nikko this weekend.

Over the last few months she’s been up, up and away from her home, an hour outside Manhattan, to England, Norway and Italy, in addition to a range of domestic cabaret stops.

At 86, she’s also looking as glam as ever. “I’m moving faster,” she laughs. “Pretty soon I’ll be a blur. I’ll really look great then!”

Savvy interviewers won’t ask her what it was like to play Anita in the original cast of “West Side Story,” but she is happy to be reminded that her first performance here is on March 22, the birthday of the musical’s famed lyricist.

“You know, I see Stephen differently through my eyes. He was a young, handsome guy who played piano. You know what I mean? Now he’s ‘Stephen Sondheim,’ but I didn’t even know his name then.”

Other than an epic 1973 concert (and subsequent recording) of cuts from Sondheim’s canon, “West Side Story” in 1957 was the only professional intersection of these two true Broadway legends and will probably remain so.

Suggest a revival of “A Little Night Music” or “Follies” and she waives the idea away. “Oh, that’s too obvious, you know what I mean? That’s what we ladies of a certain age do, but I would prefer something original.”

She doesn’t spend a lot of time offstage in theaters either. “I prefer doing over seeing,” she says, though she claims to be “excited about the new Steven Spielberg film version of ‘West Side.’ I’m very curious about that.”

Informed that Bay Area resident Rita Moreno (who won an Oscar for playing Anita in the original 1961 film adaptation) will have a role in the new version, you can almost see Broadway’s two-time Tony-winning “Spider Woman” intensely glancing down at her nails before responding, “Oh. I didn’t know that. I don’t really know her.”

Then, she laughs, as only Chita Rivera can.

IF YOU GO

Chita Rivera

Where: Feinstein’s at the Nikko, 222 Mason St., S.F.

When: 8 p.m. March 22, 5 and 8 p.m. March 23, 5 p.m. March 24

Tickets: $76 to $120

Contact: (866) 663-1063, www.ticketfly.com

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