Those who are planning to see Chita Rivera’s one-night-only Sydney show this month needn’t wonder if age has dulled her famously electrifying stage presence.

Speaking to the Star Observer down the line from her home just outside of New York, the 78-year-old star was in fine, energetic form, eagerly anticipating her Australian visit despite being midway through moving house when we called.

“I just love saying to people that I’m going to Australia when they ask what I’m doing next, it’s so exciting. I’ve always said Australian people are exceptional — hearty, fun and lighthearted. They’re what Texans should be!” she cackled.

Rivera’s six-decade career has been punctuated by a list of impressive ‘firsts’. In 1957, she was the original Anita in the Broadway production of West Side Story. Eighteen years later, she appeared as Velma Kelly in the original cast of the musical Chicago. In 2002, she was the first Hispanic woman to be awarded the Kennedy Center Honour for her contribution to American culture.

“I was lucky enough to be there when the first breath of life was blown into these characters and these shows, which I attribute to great timing and luck,” Rivera said.

“Judging by what you see on Broadway now, there aren’t too many originals — they’re doing so many revivals.

“I walk down a street and I see posters for Bye Bye Birdie, Chicago, West Side Story, and I say to myself, shouldn’t I be someplace at 8 o’clock tonight?”

My Broadway, the show Rivera’s bringing to Sydney, is something of a musical memoir, with songs and anecdotes drawn from her entire stage career. Surprisingly, she confessed she still suffered from stage fright before each show.

“I love to experience that wonderful energy that only happens in live theatre. It’s like putting a plug in a socket. But you’re always still afraid they’re gonna ‘find out’ — all these years, and all of a sudden they’re gonna find you out.”

How does she calm that fear of being ‘found out’, then?

“Well, I’m a jokester and I love to laugh more than anything. I really think performers have to not take themselves too seriously. The only enduring stars that can’t be replaced are Mickey Mouse and Snow White — everyone else is expendable.”

‘Expendable’ is hardly an adjective Rivera’s fans would use to describe her — particularly her ever-loyal gay followers, the mere mention of which left her momentarily speechless.

“Oh my god, oh my god. My gay fans, my gay friends … they are phenomenal human beings who are completely in touch with their emotions and are not afraid to be who they are.

“There’s a depth of emotion, understanding and faithfulness that the gay community has. Everybody else should really be in touch with themselves that much.

“Imagination, honesty, creativity — you can’t beat a gay guy,” she laughed. “You just can’t beat it!”

info: Chita Rivera: My Broadway, Seymour Centre, Wednesday, June 22.

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