rambling reporter

Rivera's new show is tough act not to follow

Very few cabaret acts I've ever seen gave me the high I got from catching Chita Rivera's latest outing at Feinstein's at Loews Regency. The lady's a marvel, and I urge anyone in the Manhattan environs with a free night on their calendar to go catch her before she finishes her run Saturday. No free night? Find one. It'll be the best Thanksgiving week present you could give yourself. Looking like a million bucks, the remarkable Rivera is in top form — at once classy, sassy and a prime example of how one can end up if your professors have been Fosse, Balanchine, Robbins, Gennaro and Verdon, with more than a few dollops of Kander & Ebb, Bernstein & Sondheim and Coleman & Fields. Of course, it helps if one is absolutely born to dance, sing and perform. It also doesn't hurt if one's reason for living is for the music to start and the feet, hips, shoulders and body refuse to remain still. This is a new Rivera act, with only a couple of brief holdovers from her last time at Feinstein's and her Tony-nominated Broadway and touring show "The Dancer's Life." The fact that the stage at Feinstein's is the size of a postage stamp never detours her; it could be as big as Montana the way she uses it, singing, strutting and enthusiastically delivering a mix of songs that go from the landmarks in her career ("All That Jazz," "Big Spender," "A Boy Like That," "Chief, Cook and Bottle Washer") to fresh interpretations of James Taylor's "The Secret of Life," Carol Hall's "Circle of Friends," Irving Berlin's "Let Me Sing and I'm Happy" and Kern-Hammerstein's "I Won't Dance." Rivera does what every soul doing a cabaret act should do: She gives the audience its money's worth. There also is a basic truth at work here: With so few people in our midst who are true icons in their fields like Rivera, one should let nothing get in the way of catching them whenever they perform. They truly are an endangered species. … Laraine Day, who died last week at age 87, once said to me, long after she was out of the limelight: "I've always been confused as to why so few people have ever heard of me. I worked for directors like Hitchcock, DeMille and Wellman. I starred in movies opposite people like Cary Grant, Gary Cooper, Robert Mitchum, Kirk Douglas, Ronald Reagan and John Wayne. Twice with Wayne. But now very few people know my name." I certainly did, not only for the movies she made — Alfred Hitchcock's "Foreign Correspondent" leading the pack, with Cecil B. DeMille's "The Story of Dr. Wassell" with Cooper, "Mr. Lucky" with Grant and "The High and the Mighty" and "Tycoon" with Wayne also high on the list — but also for her reign as Mrs. Leo Durocher, when Leo the Lip was one of the country's most talked-about and colorful baseball legends. Onscreen she was beautiful, glowing, earnest and a charming presence. More than one person I know had a serious crush on her. In the 1940s and '50s, she was as well known as anyone in the movie business. Her name on a marquee meant something. But, as with so many, her career and fame inevitably waned. The Laraine Day story is the kind that should be mentioned more whenever people discuss fame: how one can be a bold-face name in Hollywood for years (Day's career as an actress lasted for nearly 50), but unless you're one of those rare legends of the Wayne-Hepburn-Grant-Stewart-Bogart ilk, it's almost inevitable you'll go full circle and eventually again be an unknown.