NEW YORK - Chita Rivera has gotten an early birthday present: A musical she has long championed is coming to Broadway with her as the star.
Rivera said last week that "The Visit," with music by Fred Ebb and John Kander, and a story by playwright Terrence McNally, will open at the Lyceum Theatre this spring. Tony Award winner Roger Rees will co-star as her love interest.
"I'm excited because it has been such a long time but also because we love this piece and really think the American theater could enjoy a wonderful, interesting, smart musical like this," said Rivera, who turns 82 on Jan. 23. "Be prepared. Because you never know when the phone call's going to happen."
The musical made its world premiere with Rivera in 2001 at the Goodman Theatre in Chicago and later played The Signature Theatre in Arlington, Va., and the Williamstown Theatre Festival in Massachusetts last summer, which also starred Reese. ("He's something to contend with. He's a trip and a half," Rivera joked). Previews on Broadway start March 26 and opening night is April 23.
"I deeply believe that everything has its own time. It dictates itself, really," said Rivera. "I think we needed to have this time. I don't question that. I do believe, at the moment, you give your very, very best and you try to enjoy as best as you can those moments and I certainly did in the other two versions that we did."
"The Visit" is based on a 1956 Friedrich Durrenmatt play adapted by Maurice Valency. It centers on a billionaire who pays a visit to her hardship-stricken European birthplace. It has gallows humor, a murder plot and asks questions about morality and greed.
The original show has been cut down to one act and Rivera said "it's much more European in its feeling."
The musical will be directed by John Doyle, a Tony Award winner for his 2005 revival of "Sweeney Todd," and choreographed by Tony nominee Graciela Daniele. The producers are Tom Kirdahy, Tom Smedes, Hugh Hayes and Judith Ann Abrams.
Rivera originated some of theater's most memorable roles, including Anita in 1957's "West Side Story," Rose in 1960's "Bye Bye Birdie," Velma in 1975's "Chicago" and the title role in 1993's "Kiss of the Spider Woman," the second of her two Tony wins.
"All through my career I've been able to be a part of telling wonderful stories," she said. "And now, with another birthday coming up, I'm given another gift in a whole other shape and form. And that is a dark, wonderful, fascinating play."
Rivera, who was last on Broadway in "The Mystery of Edwin Drood," said it's gratifying to be able to present romance onstage between older people. "This part and this play shows people it doesn't matter about age. You can still have love affairs no matter how old you are," she said.