‘West Side Story’ Stars Pay Tribute to the Original Anita: Chita Rivera

American actress and dancer, Chita Rivera
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Broadway icon Chita Rivera, best known for playing Anita in the 1957 version of West Side Story recently passed away at the age of 91. In honor of the star, the ladies who followed her in playing Anita in various versions of the iconic story shared their own stories about Rivera. Rita Moreno, who portrayed Anita in the 1961 film, squashed longtime rumors about a rivalry between the two women.

Moreno shared, “Chita Rivera is eternal. I remember seeing her for the first time in Mr. Wonderful and exclaiming, ‘Oh my God, who is that?’ When I found out that this astonishing creature was one of my people, I crowed with pride. Over the years, we were sometimes mistaken for each other, which I always viewed as a badge of honor. She was the essence of Broadway. As I write this, I am raising a glass to this remarkable woman and friend. Chita, amiga, Salud!”

Chita Rivera accepts the Special Tony Award for Lifetime Achievement in the Theatre onstage during the 72nd Annual Tony Awards at Radio City Music Hall on June 10, 2018 in New York City

Theo Wargo/Getty Images for Tony Awards Productions

Ariana DeBose, who played Anita more recently in the Steven Spielberg version in 2021 and won an Oscar for her performance, shared a photo of Rivera on social media. She wrote, “She was a force. In truth she made me nervous. To be in her presence was to behold greatness. I always got the sense that she had great expectations, but none greater than the ones she held herself to…I am heartbroken and yet ever inspired as she showed so many of us what was possible. Rest well Queen. #ChitaRivera.”


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A post shared by Debbie Allen (@therealdebbieallen)

Lastly, Debbie Allen, who played Anita in the 1980 Broadway revival, shared a photo of herself with Rivera backstage. She said, “CHITA RIVERA. My Mentor, My Friend, Our Goddess of Inspiration and Joy – Thank You. Every moment of your life has been a treasure of what is possible. I will miss touching you, but I will forever hear your laughter and hold that baton of power you tossed my way.”

Rivera was not only the star of West Side Story but originated the role of Velma Kelly in 1975’s Chicago. She received two Tony Awards along with a Tony Lifetime Achievement Award in 2018. Prior, she became the first Latina to be awarded a Kennedy Center Honor.

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November 2020

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