Richardson — The word “legend” is thrown around too frequently these days, the equivalent of a 40-something or 50-something actress singing Sondheim’s song “I’m Still Here.” To quote the late, great Elaine Stritch, “where have they been?”
But it’s not hyperbole to give the “legend” descriptor to Chita Rivera and native Texan Tommy Tune, who between them have more than a dozen Tony Awards, another dozen nominations, and scores of other honors. They’re both Broadway legends, and on Friday, they perform together—for the first time!—to open the 15th season for the Eisemann Center for the Performing Arts in Richardson.
It will be the fourth performance of Chita & Tune: Two for the Road, which opened this week in New Jersey and has touring dates through March 2018. It’s directed by Graciela Daniele. Look for selections from their careers, including Chicago, West Side Story, Kiss of the Spider Woman, Call Me Madam, Sweet Charity, The Will Rogers Follies, and more.
We chatted with Ms. Rivera about the show, her career, and working with another storied triple threat.
TheaterJones: How is it that you’ve been Broadway staples for more than five decades and are just now working together?
Chita Rivera: We’ve known each other’s work and respected each other work. A while ago we decided we must do something together. The timing finally worked out.
What is the format? You each tell stories from your esteemed careers, with the songs and dancing?
We just started rehearsals [this interview happened in early August]; it’s the wonderful part of rehearsals where you experience new ideas and you think something is going to be one way and it turns out to be another way. Graciela Danielle is helping with shaping the show. Some we do together, and some we don’t do together. By the end of the show we’ve done a lot.
I would assume you discuss creating the role of Anita in West Side Story on Broadway, but not being in the movie?
Yes, but it worked out for me. [Had I have done the movie] I would have hated to have missed Bye, Bye Birdie and working with Dick Van Dyke and and Paul Lynde [on Broadway]. Tommy and I are doing a Rosie number from Birdie in this show.
You’re both triple threats with loooooonnnnng legs who’ve stayed incredibly youthful. Tommy, of course, is a hoofer. Will you be doing any tap numbers together?
Tapping is not my thing. I did one tap show, with Ann Miller and Mickey Calin, who was the original Riff in West Side Story. He could tap his rear end off. They did Anything Goes, and at one performance the curtain hit her on the head, and they needed someone to replace her. I told them I don’t tap, and they said we gotta have somebody now. Don’t ask me how I had the audacity to put on shoes with taps on them. I told them I couldn’t tap, they said what they needed is called “air taps.” I was doing it so fast and I looked so good doing it that I foiled the critics. They loved me.
The only time I’ve seen you on Broadway was in the revival of Nine with Antonio Banderas, which of course is a show that Tommy Tune directed the original Broadway production. You received a standing ovation in the middle of the show. That was one of the few times I’ve seen that happen.
It was great. I know [the audience] came to see Antonio and not me. They loved us both. I would’ve done that show for longer.
What accounted for your longevity and reputation as being a consummate professional in show business?
I don’t go into things with preconceived ideas. I like fairness. I like sharing. I like people who are nice. I don’t like schmucks. I love what I do and I love sharing it, and it’s great when people give you their affection. I love to laugh, and it’s important to not take yourself too seriously.