Rita Moreno Pays Tribute to Chita Rivera: ‘The Essence of Broadway’

Eduardo Munoz/Reuters
Eduardo Munoz/Reuters

Rita Moreno is leading a chorus of big-name tributes to Broadway icon Chita Rivera, who has died aged 91.

Rivera played Anita in the original Broadway production of West Side Story in 1957; Moreno played the character in the original 1961 film version. She also originated the roles of Velma Kelly in Chicago, and the title role in Kiss of the Spider Woman (the latter two being John Kander and Fred Ebb works). Rivera won three Tony Awards, including one for Lifetime Achievement in Theatre. She was the first Hispanic woman and first Latino American to receive a Kennedy Center Honor, and in 2009 received the Presidential Medal of Freedom.

In a statement, EGOT winner Moreno told The Daily Beast: “Chita Rivera is eternal. I remember seeing her for the first time in Mr. Wonderful and exclaiming, ‘Oh my god, who is that?’ When I found out that this astonishing creature was one of my people, I crowed with pride. Over the years, we were sometimes mistaken for each other which I always viewed as a badge of honor. She was the essence of Broadway. As I write this, I am raising a glass to this remarkable woman and friend. Chita, amiga, Salud!”

Chita Rivera accepts Lifetime Achievement Award at 72nd Tony Awards, 2018.

Chita Rivera accepts Lifetime Achievement Award at 72nd Tony Awards, 2018.

Lucas Jackson/Reuters

Bernadette Peters, another Broadway icon and Tony winner, said in a statement obtained by The Daily Beast: “She was an amazing talent and vibrant, fun person. She was a great star up till the very end. She did it all so very well.”

On Instagram, Ariana DeBose, who won an Oscar, as well as BAFTA, Golden Globe, Critics’ Choice, and SAG awards for playing Anita in the 2021 Steven Spielberg film version of West Side Story, said of Rivera: She was a force. In truth she made me nervous. To be in her presence was to behold greatness. I always got the sense that she had great expectations, but none greater than the ones she held herself to…I am heartbroken and yet ever inspired as she showed so many of us what was possible. Rest well Queen.”

Debbie Allen, who played Anita in a 1980 Broadway revival, said on Instagram: “My Mentor, My Friend, Our Goddess of Inspiration and Joy - Thank You. Every moment of your life has been a treasure of what is possible. I will miss touching you, but I will forever hear your laughter and hold that baton of power you tossed my way.”

On X, Kristin Chenoweth posted: “There was only you. Then everyone else. I looked up to you and always will admire you as a talent and mostly as a person! A kick butt woman you were. All the rest of us just wanna be you. RIP CHITA.”

Victoria Clark, who won the 2023 Tony for Best Actress in a Musical (for Kimberly Akimbo), told The Daily Beast: “Although I never had the pleasure of working with Chita, she was the artist we all looked up to our whole lives—an immortal. She will live on forever in my heart.”

Read more at The Daily Beast.

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