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Broadway theaters will dim lights in honor of Chita Rivera

The three-time Tony Award-honored actor passed away on Jan. 30.

Chita Rivera takes a bow in her final Broadway role: Claire Zachannassian in 2015’s “The Visit” (Credit: Bruce Glikas/Film Magic, Getty Images)

The Broadway League has announced that the committee of theater owners will dim Broadway marquee lights in honor of Chita Rivera, who passed away on Jan. 30 at the age of 91. The lights of Broadway’s 41 houses will darken for exactly one minute on Feb 17 at 7:45 p.m.

Rivera’s Broadway career spans more than six decades. Following a stint in the chorus of the 1952 national touring company of “Call Me Madam,” Rivera made her Broadway debut as a replacement in the ensemble of the original Main Stem production of “Guys and Dolls.” Soon after, she joined the ensemble of “Can-Can,” then originated her first principal role in 1955’s “Seventh Heaven,” and created another role in 1956’s “Mr. Wonderful” and served as Eartha Kitt’s standby in 1957’s “Shinbone Alley.” Later that year she created the role of Anita in “West Side Story.” Rivera received her first of ten Tony Award nominations for originating the role of Rose Grant in 1960’s “Bye Bye Birdie.” 

Rivera received subsequent Tony nominations for creating the role of Velma in 1975’s “Chicago,” reprising her “Bye Bye Birdie” role in the 1981 sequel “Bring Back Birdie,” as well as turns in 1983’s “Merlin,” 1985’s “Jerry’s Girls,” the 2003 revival of “Nine,” the 2005 autobiographical musical “Chita Rivera: The Dancer’s Life,” the 2012 revival of “The Mystery of Edwin Drood” and the 2015 Broadway premiere of “The Visit.” Rivera won Leading Actress in a Musical Tonys for two Kander and Ebb musicals: 1984’s “The Rink” and 1993’s “Kiss of the Spider Woman.”

On the road, Rivera played the titular role in the 1967 national company of “Sweet Charity,” as well as the Leader in the 1969 tour of “Zorba.” She played Velma in the 1977 tour of “Chicago,” and took on the role of Roxie twenty years later in a subsequent tour. Rivera returned to “Can-Can” over thirty years after playing the chorus of the Broadway production, this time taking on the lead role of La Mome Pistache in the 1988 touring company which featured the Radio City Rockettes.

In 2018, Rivera was honored with a special Tony for Lifetime Achievement. Additional honors include a Kennedy Center Honor in 2002 and the Presidential Medal of Freedom in 2009.

“Chita Rivera was Broadway royalty, and we will miss her with all our hearts,” expressed Charlotte St. Martin, president of the League, in a statement. “For nearly seven decades she enthralled generations of audiences with her spellbinding performances and iconic roles. The triple threat actor, singer, and dancer leaves behind an incredible legacy of work.”

The dimming of marquee lights is a seven-decade-long honor which salutes Broadway’s most revered and respected luminaries. The gesture was first done for Tony-winning actor Gertrude Lawrence in 1952. Recent honorees include Tony-winning lyricist Sheldon Harnick, Tony-winning scenic designer Robin Wagner and former Roundabout Theatre Company artistic director and CEO Todd Haimes.