Friday, May 12, 2017

LIZ SMITH: Out & About

West Side girl turned East Side girl — Chita Rivera.
by Liz Smith & Denis Ferrara

Chita Rivera triumphs at the Café Carlyle ... Out and About With Tommy Tune.

“I’M SO happy to be here at the Café Carlyle, on East 76th Street. You know, I’m really a West Side girl. Just about the only time I get to the east Side is to see my doctor!”

That’s how Chita Rivera greeted an adoring crowd earlier this week at the fabled little room, with the murals on the walls, in the Carlyle Hotel. It was the first night of a two week stint there (until the 20th).

The “doctor” reference got a big laugh, but in reality, the very last thing one thinks of when looking at Chita, onstage (or off, for that matter!) is that she would ever need a doctor. Vibrancy, energy and astonishing good health radiate from this legendary 84-year-old.

The last time we saw Chita it was at Carnegie Hall, her debut at that spot, on November 7th, 2016.  One day before the election.  The world, the country, the city of Manhattan was worn out, exhausted.  We were fearful, warning friends not to be over-confident (we’d been doing this for months and months, too.)  But the promise of a night with Chita, on that great stage, gave wonderful, temporary balm to our nerves, and served 24hours later, as a memory to cherish, for many reasons.

That evening Chita was epic.  The time, the place, the woman, the material; an audience on hand to worship, to forget its troubles.  It was Chita Writ Large, so to speak.

At the charming Café Carlyle, it is Chita Writ ... no, not small, Human. It is the intimate Chita Rivera, the delicacy and fire of her emotions, up close.  There’s the famous sex appeal and raucous energy, in numbers such as “A Lot of Livin’ To Do,” “Camille, Colette Fifi,” “Chief Cook and Bottle Washer” “All That Jazz” and “Nowadays.” And that sex-appeal, that sense of fun, is still a potent thing. One of the reasons for Ms. Rivera’s continued professional existence is to nod, wink, shake a hip and convey that time has not — should not — stop a full embrace of sensuality.  (The Carlyle, not large, tends to always be a rather warm room. Chita brought out the beads of sweat.)
Pure anticipation.
But it is the quieter Chita, the more tensely dramatic chanteuse that provides the evening’s great golden moments. “Sweet Happy Life,” “Winter,” and extraordinarily powerful renditions of “Where Am I Going” and “Carousel” illuminate the singer, the actress and the woman.

It is however, the bitter, barely sweet Kander and Ebb ballad, “Love and Love Alone,” from “The Visit” (which garnered Chita yet another Tony nomination) that brings the room to its most profound silence and attention.  Chita says that some people misinterpret “The Visit” as a tale of revenge, but that “it is really about an undying love.”  Well, revenge or love for the ages, just try to remain uninvolved as Chita sings, “When tomorrow’s come, and your heart is stone/what has made it numb, love and love alone.”
Chita will be at the Carlyle until the 20th Make it your business to see her! 

We’re going to end this review/unabashed love letter with what we wrote on the night of Chita’s Carnegie Hall triumph. These words will always apply to this great woman: “She is a joyful performer. Not just deeply committed to her work, the art. But infused with the pleasure of work, her happy astonishment that she’s still here and not hanging on by a thread, either. She is one of the realest, least phony, down-to-earth stars I have ever known. Sometimes that translates onto stage or screen. Sometimes not. With Chita, the good person she is pours out. If she was only half as talented as she is, she would still be a great star, because she has a great soul. But, lucky us, she has more talent in that wickedly petite body than she knows what to do with. Wait, wrong. She does know what to do with it.”

And right now, she’s doing it at The Café Carlyle. Be infused with life. Go! 
I HAD a wonderful time the other night being with my life-long Texas friend Tommy Tune.

This talented guy, winner of 10 Tony Awards for acting, directing and choreography, kept me amused through a very long evening.

First, we attended the “Puppies Behind Bars” charity, where we were entertained in a crush of standing dog lovers at the Bryant Park Grill. Two hours of standing room only, listening to the star Glenn Close, various veterans, barking dogs and former rehabilitated prisoners talk. Tommy whispered, “This is a great charity but so crowded that even I can’t see Glenn for the crush. Why, it’s almost like listening to the radio when we were kids!”
Glenn Close and Gloria Gilbert Stoga, founder of Puppies Behind Bars.
We were joined by genius photographer Mary Hillard, who took these wonderful photos, and who has inherited the mantle of the late Bill Cunningham. And this led to the three of us fondly doing what we always do – telling of how we came to New York from “the sticks” and how thrilled we were to still be here!!

Then, we went to dinner for 15 people at a very long table in Osteria Al Doge on the West Side.
Tom and Karen Hallett with Walker and Zoe. Glenn with Master Sgt. Len Fallis and Chuck.
Tommy took time to tell Mary — who is now a beautiful blonde! — and me how he was trying out a future show concert with Chita Rivera. Together, they will bring it eventually to the Big City. Mary told of her past love affairs and even wedlock before she hit the heights taking photos.
Gilbert Molina III, Glenn, Master Sgt. Len Fallis with Chuck, Anthony Annucci, and Lt. Anthony Lordo.
Nobody mentioned retiring! (That’s a no-no in NYC.) Our hostess, the inexhaustible Elizabeth Taylor Peabody, took this night on with her usual vim and generosity even though she has been arranging her father, Sam’s funeral, happening tomorrow. (St James Church at 4pm)

Mr. Tune and I discussed the merits and differences in our pals’ Bette Midler and Carol Channing’s “Dolly,” now an impossible-to-get-a-ticket hit. We harked back to “My Fair Lady” and “South Pacific” of the Broadway of our youth.
Liz and Elizabeth Peabody.
Tommy showed me his new ankle-length cowboy “boots,” made for current fashionable thin trousers. (The last time I’d seen Tommy, he was wearing a kilt!)

He is always an ”up” — smiling, full of stories and curiosity! He actually listens and encourages others to talk! He is an inexhaustible fund of energy and positivity; a great giving human being.
Tommy Tune and Bill Hamilton.
RECENTLY, I wrote here about my friend Judith Ann Abrams, but want to correct.   She is happy that her five shows were nominated for scores of awards, including Tonys for Best Play (“Indecent”) and for Best Musical (“Come From Away”).

Win or not, Judy is a happy camper. However, she is not, as we noted, a backer for the long-running “Kinky Boots.” She is instead a producer! The difference is a producer raises money and does marketing. Backers of a play however, actually put money “in.”

Contact Liz here.