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Bay Area Cabaret celebrated sexy Chita Rivera's 80th birthday with laughs

Cindy Warner and Tadd, a handsome man who happened to be waiting in the lobby at the Fairmont.
Cindy Warner and Tadd, a handsome man who happened to be waiting in the lobby at the Fairmont.
Cindy Warner

Bay Area Cabaret's Chita Rivera

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Bay Area Cabaret presented Chita Rivera who kept the packed Venetian Room at the Fairmont Hotel laughing at her Broadway antics and anecdotes, the 80 year old show stopper a dazzling dancer at 80 and kicking up her red high heels and flashing sequins. Wear your own shoes, that's her motto.

Bay Area Cabaret presented 80 year old birthday girl Chita Rivera
Bay Area Cabaret presented 80 year old birthday girl Chita Rivera
Monica Simoes

She opened the show by expressing her appreciation for the male persuasion and all the fabulous men she’s worked with. That February Sunday the men would include a live trio of musicians who played her straight men on stage. Michael Croiter, Michael Patrick Walker and Jim Donica.

Come on baby, I know a whoopee spot

She ran through composers and choreographers too besides naming singing actors such as Dick Van Dyke and Donald O’Connor, naming Bob Fosse, Bernstein & Sondheim, even Ricardo Montalban and Antonio Banderas. Liza Minnelli is a long-time friend who would end up playing the daughter of Chita’s character in a film. That was “Anna & Angel” about an Italian mother left by her family to run a roller rink on her own.

Note Liza Minnelli will be appearing in San Francisco soon in her own solo show. One night only at Davis Symphony Hall, Friday, March 28 at 8 p.m.. She will perform with her musician ensemble and sing American standards.

Related: Marga Gomez solo comedy ‘Lovebirds’ extended at The Marsh

Chita as she calls herself appeared ageless as she launched into her high energy show where she strutted through her career on the stage and in film. She set the stage by joking about being from the Golden Age as if it were another planet. It’s just astounding to get this intimate visit with a Broadway legend so far from Broadway.

You didn’t have to know her beforehand to love her. She shimmied and shook and performed some high energy campy and burlesque numbers as well as her mesmerizing signature song from ‘Carousel’ where she still goes convincingly psycho. Yes, she can act but she has the body and charisma of a dancer and moves like one. Yet, although she spoke a lot of the lyrics from her songs, her voice warmed up as the program went on, still sounding sultry and sexy, soft and whispery, sexy and youthful particularly by the time she got to mentioning her classmate Shirley MacLaine and playing a hooker. “She fell in love a lot” Chita said of her character.

Chita made a name for herself in the stage version of “West Side Story”, which preceded the film.

She still has the legs and figure for performing the bawdy Camille Colette Fifi routine in which she dons a boa for the bump and grind and chews gum at the same time. She went on to perform a song from the play “Spiderman”, demanding gimme gimme gimme love, let’s make love; She worked toward the finale with a song from "Chicago" and a song written for her and Mary McCarty. It used to be controversial, the song about “class” or the absence of it.

The big finish came with a top hat and cane—the Broadway razzle dazzle type of cane that goes with a tuxedo. She put on a little jazzy soft shoe and mentioned Rob Marshall choreographed. The anecdote after that involved Catherine Zeta Jones who won the Oscar but Chita insisted Chita still had her vamp. The hip still works. So to prove it she went into an inviting "Come on baby, I know a whoopee spot". Indeed, it was the Venetian Room for Bay Area Cabaret.

Chita Rivera will perform in a dramatic new American musical this summer called "The Visit" and sang a song from it called "Love Alone". It will be an AIDS benefit.

Related: Napa Valley Oscar Viewing Telecast party, AIDS/HIV fundraiser 2014

Chita performed a second show at 7:30 that Sunday night after her 3:00 matinee.

Tickets ran $43 to $48.

The Fairmont offers a special buffet dinner at Laurel Court that comes with four hours of free parking for $40. Parking alone at the Fairmont and in the nearby lots on Nob Hill runs from about $38 to $56.

The One California bus runs to the Fairmont from Embarcadero Center. The cable car also runs from the beginning of Market Street to Nob Hill along California Street.

It’s a tough ride for bicyclists but the bus can take two bikes. Those of sound wind and stout shoes may also walk up the steep hill from Powell Street BART at Union Square.

Bay Area Cabaret continues this 10th anniversary season with Judy Collins on March 15; Morgan James on April 6; Karen Mason in ‘Secrets of the Ancient Divas’ on May 18.

The Venetian Room is at 950 Mason Street atop Nob Hill in the Fairmont Hotel, San Francisco, California.

For more information: www.bayareacabaret.org or City Box Office at (415) 392-4400.

For more stories by this writer check out CBS San Francisco's website under Eye on the Bay, San Francisco arts & culture "Best Of"; and San Francisco Arts & Culture on Examiner.com. Subscribe by hitting the SUBSCRIBE button at the top of this article.

https://www.facebook.com/CindyWarnerJournalist (America's Cup SF photos and links)

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