Chita Rivera is tired. But not from performing, mind you.
“My daughter and I just got back from a trip to Positano, Italy,” she says over the phone. “It’s our favorite place on the planet, but it has so many steps!”
Never mind. A little jet lag or exhaustion from trekking in the cliffside town does nothing to dampen the 85-year-old singer-dancer-actor’s enthusiasm for her two shows Saturday at the Calderwood Pavilion, the Huntington Theatre Company’s first of its Broadway @ the Huntington Series. She’ll take questions from Seth Rudetsky, music director and radio host, and perform songs from her legendary career.
“It’s not scripted or planned,” she says, “so it always feels fresh, and a memory or a song emerges out of a moment. We may talk about something that happened years ago, or just last week.”
What makes this show special, she says, is that it’s a conversation between two people who have a love and appreciation for theater. Rivera, of course, is the recipient of this year’s Lifetime Achievement Tony Award, along with two other Tonys and 10 nominations. While most famous, perhaps, for originating the roles of Anita in “West Side Story,” Rose in “Bye, Bye Birdie,” and Velma Kelly in “Chicago,” she also starred in “Can-Can,” “The Rink,” “Kiss of the Spider Woman,” “Nine,” and the revival of “The Mystery of Edwin Drood,” and those are just some of her Broadway credits. Rudetsky has worked as an accompanist and music director in musical theater, and has gained a cult following for his hilarious and always informative radio interviews on his shows “Seth’s Big Fat Broadway” and “Seth Speaks” on Sirius/XM Satellite Radio’s On Broadway channel.
“He’s one of a kind,” says Rivera. “He’s fast and funny and has an extraordinary amount of music and musical theater knowledge in his head.”
Rivera says she’s gotten to know Rudetsky by doing other shows with him, and since they are so comfortable with each other, the evening feels more like a chat between two friends.
And even though the show is unscripted, Rivera says “as soon as I leave the house I’m concerned about delivering a professional performance.”
While the duo may not rehearse specific songs, she says she is always warmed up and ready to go. Of course, certain songs and stories often bubble to the surface.
“People want to hear about how I auditioned for ‘West Side Story’ or what went into the creation of a song for a character in a Kander and Ebb musical.”
She says she’s been extraordinarily lucky to work with so many great directors, choreographers, and songwriters.
“It’s fun to share what went into the evolution of a song, from notes on a page to a way for a character to move a story forward,” she says. “I’m fascinated with the way [John] Kander and [Fred] Ebb were able to layer so many different levels of meaning into a song, like ‘How Lucky Can You Get?’ which starts out so bright and then turns dark.”
Although Rivera will accompany her storytelling with singing, she will not be doing any dancing. But, she adds, “you’d have to tie my feet down to keep me from moving.”
CHITA RIVERA WITH SETH RUDETSKY
At the Calderwood Pavilion, Boston Center for the Arts, Oct. 13 at 5 p.m. and 8 p.m. Tickets from $25, 617-266-0800, www.huntingtontheatre.orgTerry Byrne can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.