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Broadway legend Chita Rivera was a triple threat, a trailblazer – and a hoot

The actor, dancer and singer, who has died aged 91, did not just provide great entertainment on stage. She was an eloquent, mischievous chronicler of musical theatre

Chita Rivera had been answering questions about West Side Story for some 60 years when yet another journalist called her up to hear the story. You could have forgiven this indomitable triple-threat star – celebrated for her singing, acting and dancing – for going through the motions in a 15-minute phone interview. But seconds into what would be the first of a few conversations we had over the years, it was clear she’d be a hoot.

“I love that accent!” she mock-purred with a laugh before recalling the thick Manchester fog when she brought the show over in 1958. She was an anglophile and had happy memories of the show’s London run, where she resumed the role of Anita. She’d recently given birth to Lisa, lovingly described as her “Shark-Jet daughter”: Chita’s husband was Tony Mordente, who played one of the Jets, while Anita was with the Sharks. The gangs had rehearsed separately for the show in order to heighten tensions on stage – “a phenomenal idea” from choreographer Jerome Robbins – so they’d tried to keep their romance secret. She brought a maternal quality to Anita’s friendship with Maria but Rivera loved how saucy and passionate the character is too.

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