KPBS AIRDATE: September 30, 2005
Two Tony Award-winning theaters, two world premieres and a long list of prestigious pedigrees. At the Old Globe, you can catch a living legend, Chita Rivera, in a new dance/musical/narrative about her life. Then there’s “The Scottish Play,” the latest creation by Lee Blessing, the La Jolla Playhouse’s most-performed living playwright. One piece is on very sure footing; the other is a serious misstep.
Among musical theater aficionados, Chita Rivera is an icon. Onstage at the Globe, she’s a force of nature. She was a ground-breaker – as an actor, singer and especially dancer nonpareil. In 2002, she was the first Hispanic to receive the coveted Kennedy Center Honors. And that’s the framing device for her new show, “Chita Rivera: The Dancer’s Life,” a collaboration with the award-winning playwright Terrence McNally and director/choreographer Graciela Daniele. While we do learn a few details about Chita’s life, what we really come to know is what it means to be a Gypsy, a peripatetic dancer in Broadway musicals.
In her incredibly warm, gracious way, Chita pays tribute to the big name choreographers who shaped her. In one stellar segment, as she describes the style of Jerome Robbins, Bob Fosse, Peter Gennaro and Jack Cole, nine dancers glide gracefully by in a never-ending assembly-line silhouette that depicts the signature style of each choreographic master. Chita reprises snippets from her star-making performances, including Anita in “West Side Story” and Velma Kelly in “Chicago.” But more than that, she makes us love her. She’s absolutely irresistible, and so is her show. Still agile and talented at 72, she’s onstage almost the entire 2 hours – dancing out her hopes, her dreams, her triumphs, her pain, her divorce, her affairs. The opening night audience screamed. New York will undoubtedly welcome her ‘home’ with open arms, when the show moves from here directly to Broadway. So don’t miss this rare opportunity to visit with royalty — of the most dramatic kind.
Now, when it comes to high drama, there’s no history as fraught as “Macbeth,” Shakespeare’s most supernatural tragedy. Since the 17th century, catastrophe and calamity have dogged “Macbeth” productions, which is why superstitious theater-folk will only refer to it as ‘the Scottish play.’ Lee Blessing’s farce is the latest disaster. So ill-conceived, poorly wrought, overacted and unfunny, it’s astonishing that this is the same pen that gave us “A Walk in the Woods,” “Two Rooms” and the droll Hamlet sequel, “Fortinbras.” The premise is a doomed “Macbeth” production in northern Michigan. The mishaps and misfortunes pile up, but since all the characters are one-dimensional caricatures, we barely care. The eerie live music and second-act special effects are noteworthy. But when the musician is more interesting than the action, all you can say is “Out, damned Scot!”
©2005 Patté Productions Inc.