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Living Latina Legend Chita Rivera Lends Name To Good Cause
By ROBERT WADDELL
NEW YORK, May 23, 2000
An unknown fan kisses Chita Rivera on the hand and then bows. "When I was a little girl, I wanted to grow up to be like you," she says before disappearing into the crowd.
Such admiration is not uncommon for one of the few Latina stars of American theatre. Rivera achieved legendary status decades ago on Broadway in the original productions of "West Side Story" and "Chicago" and on the silver screen in "Sweet Charity." In recent years, she starred as the leading role in "Kiss of the Spiderwoman." A Latina triple threat -- she can dance, sing and act - anyone who has seen her live knows she performs to the hilt
"I don't pay attention to any of that, I just do my job," said Rivera.
Most recently, the wide-eyed star has lent her support to something less glamorous than a film or Broadway musical but just as close to her heart.
Rivera, a former resident of Humacao, Puerto Rico, has maintained strong ties to the community's local performing arts school, The Palmas Academy. In 1998 Hurricane Georges ripped through the resort area, tearing apart the town and the school. According to Lilliam Morales Gonzales, head of the academy, they will need to raise 7.5 million dollars to completely rebuild the school.
Students, teachers, Gonzales and Rivera are looking to an unlikely hero -- twelve-year old William Fox -- to save the school.
"Questionable Question" is a musical comedy with 14 original songs composed by Fox. Cinda Fox, his mother, wrote the lyrics and the story. The show is performed by 36 students from Palmas Academy, ranging in ages from 8 to 15. They are accompanied by a 14-piece salsa band. William's father, Manny, is producer of the show. The show was first seen in early April at Inter-American University and on upper-Broadway last April. Together, the children have raised 3.5 million dollars so far, said Gonzales.
"I'm blown away by these kids," said Rivera. "They're very gifted."
"Questionable Question" tells the story of a medieval serf who saves a princess before they are transported to present-day New York City. Both the serf and the princess learn about important lessons about who they are their ability to break free from circumstances that confine them. William said his musical score was meant to "help his school rebuild."
Fox, whose parents are in the arts, has taken advantage of Palmas Academy's focus on arts instruction and honed his innate talent for music. His other passions are rollerblading and playing Dreamquest.
Maritere Cardono, head English teacher at Palma Academy, said after the hurricane hit, the school was left without a library, a cafeteria and a gymnasium. Most of the buildings were blown away. "It took three years to build and in one minute it was all destroyed," she said.
Fox said he hopes he and the rest of the cast will raise enough money to get their school back.
"God does work in mysterious ways," said Gonzales, referring to the fact that in spite of the hurricane the community was able to band together and work to raise money for the school.
Sitting next to Gonzales, Rivera recounted her own experiences with turning adversity into something positive when she was involved in a serious car accident. Despite her injuries, she was determined to get up and perform again.
"These kids are like Puerto Rico," said Rivera. "There's an indomitable soul there. Just when it seems to be all over, we pull it together. You cannot kill a great spirit.