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Chita Rivera to celebrate Broadway with Angela Lansbury in West Palm Beach

Broadway superstar Chita Rivera will hit South Florida stages twice this month. First up, on Jan. 12, she’ll join fellow stage legend Angela Lansbury (“Mame,” “Sweeney Todd”) at “Night of Stars: A Broadway Celebration!” at the Kravis Center for the Performing Arts in West Palm Beach. Then, on Jan. 19, she’ll perform with Tommy Tune (“My One and Only,” “The Will Rogers Follies”) in “Chita and Tune – Two for the Road” at Parker Playhouse in Fort Lauderdale.

Rivera, who will celebrate her 85th birthday on Jan. 23, left Washington, D.C., for New York when she was 17 to dance at George Balanchine’s American School of Ballet. Jerome Robbins put her in “Call Me Madam,” which was her Broadway debut in 1950. She never returned to ballet, instead working regularly on the Great White Way in shows such as “Guys and Dolls,” “Can-Can,” “Seventh Heaven” and “Mr. Wonderful” (with Sammy Davis Jr.). She became a star as Anita in “West Side Story” in 1957.

After doing “Bye Bye Birdie” in 1960 with Dick Van Dyke, she co-starred with Shirley MacLaine in the film version of “Sweet Charity” in 1969. After she toured for years, Fred Ebb, John Kander and Bob Fosse brought her back to Broadway with “Chicago” in 1975 and then “The Rink” in 1984 (for which she won her first Tony Award). In 1992, Kander and Ebb put her center stage again in “Kiss of the Spider Woman” (her second Tony).

In New York, she starred in “Nine” with Antonio Banderas in 2003, and appeared in a revival of “The Mystery of Edwin Drood” at Studio 54 in 2012. Three years later, she hit Broadway again (after the 9/11 attacks caused years of delays) with another Kander-Ebb musical, “The Visit,” in 2015. In 2002, she was the first Latina to be awarded the Kennedy Center Honor. In 2009, she received the Presidential Medal of Freedom.

Rivera recently spoke with us by phone.

I know you’re a big Yankee fan and a Derek Jeter fan, so is there any chance you might also become a Marlins fan now that Jeter is in the executive suite with the Marlins?

Once a Yankee fan, always a Yankee fan. No, I’ll be a Yankee fan until the day I die. But I am glad that Jeter is doing what he’s doing. It’s so typical of him to do something so interesting.

So do you know what you’re doing for the “Night of Stars” show at the Kravis Center?

I think I’m doing something with [Brian Stokes Mitchell, “Ragtime,” “Kiss Me Kate”]. You know, we did “[Kiss of the] Spider Woman” together. I’m hosting with him. I think they want me to do “[All That] Jazz” from “Chicago.” I think I’ll find out when I get down there. I’ll do whatever it is they want me to do. It’s an important evening, and I’m honored I was asked — especially working with Angela [Lansbury], because I adore her.

You’re also performing here in South Florida with Tommy Tune. I read that you first connected when he performed at one of your benefits in 2013. You said what you two have is something special. What did you mean by that?

I think the two of us have genuinely proven over the years that we love our craft. You know, not even doing it, but just appreciating it makes your life better. Tommy, of course, not only sings and dances and acts, he choreographs and directs. But we both have the same kind of spirit. We both care about each other and the business, and we want to continue to do it at a certain level that the youngsters coming up can see.

Speaking of youngsters, there are many young Latinos in South Florida who might look to you for some sort of guidance or inspiration. What would you say to them?

The only thing I can say is that they must follow their heart and they can’t think it’s a simple road. They must give it everything. It’s hard work. They have to study, and they have to stick with it. That’s why we older folks want to stick around, so they have examples of what can happen if they work hard … and love what they do. And they don’t have to play Latin roles. They have no limitations. They have to believe.

Recently, you’ve been a bit of a critic of our obsessions with our smartphones and social media, which is surprising because your own Facebook page is endlessly entertaining and surprising. I mean, who knew you were such close friends with drag-queen entertainer Coco Peru?

That’s what happens when your eyes are open and your ears are open and you live your life. That’s what makes your life full and rich … you meet fun and talented people. I have so many kinds of friends who are in all kinds of walks of life, and it’s just fabulous.

But still, you’re so good at social media.

My press agent works on that. I don’t. I would live in a hole and come out onstage, you know what I mean?

You seem to think that people have lost the ability to connect face-to-face.

I think that’s true. It’s very distressing. My daughter and I went to dinner the other night, and everyone at the table was on their damn phone. It was so frustrating. They let the moment go by, and it doesn’t come back again. Or it comes back again in a different way. I’m in the moment. I’m pretty adamant about that. When you overdo anything, I think it’s a problem. I love being in my life, fully in it. If I let those moments go by, I wouldn’t have the full, rich life I have. I don’t need a phone all the time.

Thank you so much. This is the third time I’ve interviewed you, and it’s always the highlight of my week, probably my month.

Oh, you poor thing.

“Night of Stars: A Broadway Celebration!” will begin 7 p.m. Jan. 12 at the Kravis Center for the Performing Arts, 701 Okeechobee Blvd., in West Palm Beach. Tickets cost $50-$115. To order, call 561-832-7469 or go to Kravis.org. The night also will include a black-tie gala with a pre-show cocktail reception and a post-show dinner. Tickets cost $500 and $1,000. To order, call 561-651-4320 or go to Kravis.org/Gala.

“Chita and Tune – Just in Time” will begin 8 p.m. Jan. 19 at Parker Playhouse, 707 NE Eighth St., in Fort Lauderdale (Holiday Park). Tickets cost $43- $123. To order, call 954-462-0222 or go to ParkerPlayhouse.com.

rhagwood@southflorida.com

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