NEW YORK (AP) — Chita Rivera had wanted to celebrate her 80th birthday quietly, no fuss. That clearly wasn’t going to happen.
“I think I can ask anybody out on the street, ‘How old is Chita Rivera?’ and they’d know. There’s an awful lot of noise about it,” says the actress. “That’s not the way I intended it to be.”
So, true to form for the multitalented, always hardworking Tony Award winner, Rivera will celebrate by giving back: She’s preparing a one-night-only Broadway concert to benefit Broadway Cares/Equity Fights AIDS.
“Since it’s out there, let’s make some money,” says Rivera, laughing.
The Oct. 7 show at the August Wilson Theatre will feature Rivera backed by a full orchestra singing songs from her hits and telling stories. It’s written by Terrence McNally and directed by Graciela Daniele. Guests will include Tommy Tune and Ben Vereen.
Broadway Cares/Equity Fights AIDS, one of the nation’s leading nonprofit AIDS fundraising and grant-making organizations, initially considered honoring Rivera by putting on a show in her honor. She balked, intent on “giving some sweat” herself.
The actress, who actually turned 80 in January, doesn’t take herself too seriously. The show is called “Chita: A Legendary Celebration,” but Rivera jokes: “I’m getting closer and closer to a fairy tale.”
Rivera, who was onstage this year in “The Mystery of Edwin Drood,” originated some of theater’s most memorable roles, including Anita in 1957′s “West Side Story,” Rose in 1960′s “Bye Bye Birdie,” Velma in 1975′s “Chicago” and the title role in 1993′s “Kiss of the Spider Woman,” the second of her two Tony Award wins. All will play a part in her show.
“When you’re lucky enough to have a ‘West Side’ and a ‘Spider Woman’ and a ‘Can-Can’ and ‘A Dancer’s Life’ and ‘Chicago’ and ‘Nine’ — when you’ve had that kind of luck to have been able to do those kinds of things, you’ve got a really nice library,” she says. “You know when you have a fabulous experience? Seldom are we allowed to go visit it again. I’m able to do that.”
She also has plenty of stories to tell, from a near-fatal car accident to shows that failed. “I don’t really have bad memories. Even the bombs that I did are something you learn from and they become funny now,” she says.
Stephen Flaherty, who with Lynn Ahrens co-wrote two songs from Rivera’s autobiographical show, “Chita Rivera: The Dancer’s Life,” is in awe: “She’s unstoppable,” he says. “And the thing that’s great about her is she embraces every aspect of her life.”
Rivera was awarded the Presidential Medal of Freedom in 2009 and was the first Hispanic ever chosen to receive the Kennedy Center Honor in 2002. Her current CD is “And Now I Swing,” and she will take the birthday show on the road next year with a trio of musicians.
At 80, Rivera is as vital as ever, happy to be working even during her birthday celebration.
“I’ve always realized I was lucky. I was very fortunate to come along at a great time. I’ve got fabulous friends and a fabulous family. So it’s good. It’s really good,” she says. “I’m just worried about the world right now.”