Baby June* had nothing on this 5’2” (well almost) red headed bundle of dynamite. With fifty years in theater, television, and film under her pave sash (undetectable by either appearance or energy level), the formidably talented Anita Gillette has finally gotten around to presenting her first cabaret act. It was worth the wait. “Sometimes before you see where you’re going, you have to see where you’ve been…so we’re here to do that…and settle a few scores…” she begins with a twinkle in her eye.
The immensely likeable Gillette shares a cavalcade of career memories, each leading up to or illustrated by a musical number. Sequencing is so seamless, we’re listening to a song before realizing patter has stopped. In fact, sometimes, it hasn’t. The skill with which wickedly funny, anecdote-specific wisecracks are integrated into performance is completely captivating. Bravo, Director Barry Kleinbort.
This is an actress and comedienne as well as a singer. Her timing is pitch-perfect. Whether offering an exaggeratedly hammy Italian street song (with artful, deadpan vocal back-up by Paul Greenwood) or mimicking an old woman whose landlady she was briefly (one of Rue McClanahan’s 7 husbands talked her into buying real estate when work was scarce), she nails each character and moves on with nary a ba dump dump needed to punctuate.
John Kander and Fred Ebb’s “Don’t Tell Mama” from Cabaret is the first of several saucy numbers to which Gillette does full justice. The honey-cured “Nightlife” (Charles Strouse/Lee Adams from All American) and Joe Williams’s “He May Be Your Man” but he comes to see me sometime, are equally frisky.
Gillette moves with innuendo and expresses with implication, utilizing the full stage, locking eyes with her audience. Bawdy remarks are buoyant. The lady’s still got it- in spades. “I met my first husband, Dr. Gillette, over an autopsy… he tried to educate me…” is the lead in to “Teach Me Tonight” (Gene DePaul/Johnny Mercer) delivered with very pretty vibrato and spiked with personal commentary.
After “Extra! Extra” (Jule Stein/Stephen Sondheim), we learn that Ethel Merman saved her understudy job in Gypsy when Gillette was pregnant. Demonstrative gymnastics are a scream. Her rendition of “Mira” from Bob Merrill’s musical Carnival personifies the ingénue she must’ve been. It’s a darker arrangement than the original, more suited to her vocal abilities, but completely effective. Accepting another offer, Gillette quit only to successfully step in for the hospitalized Anna Maria Alberghetti just before leaving. A grudging David Merrick hired her back when the other show quickly closed. Alberghetti received plastic roses “How do you order those?!” Gillette received a bill for the blow-up (photo) of herself outside the theater.
“The Secret Service” (from Mr. President) and a medley of “How Deep is the Ocean” and “Remember” follow. First cute as the dickens, Gillette sings the second two songs with wistful elegance. All three are by Irving Berlin “Mr. B.” with whom she had a long friendship. Just as we settle into a quiet moment, her hysterical story of an inadvertently drunken evening at the Lyndon Johnson White House has us again rolling in the aisles. “Oh Gee!” (Bill Jacob/Patti Jacob from Jimmy—the musical about Gentleman Jimmy Walker) puts a cherry on top with a 1920s number that even has the band grinning.
A clever duet (with Paul Greenwood) of “Yesterdays” (Jerome Kern/Otto Harbach) shows the difference between what Gillette was singing and what she was thinking on the occasion of being the shiksa** asked to sing at Otto Harbach’s funeral. (special lyrics by Barry Kleinbort) There were 14 Broadway shows. Then came film and television. “Besides being dance instructors and floozies, I’ve been everybody’s mother. Believe me, they’re all good kids.” Not to mention the quiz shows. And back to Broadway. Well chosen numbers elaborate.
Anita Gillette’s encore, “Are You Having Any Fun?” (Sammy Fain/Jack Yellen), is completely rhetorical. We’ve laughed, clapped, and swayed our way through a warm, expertly executed evening by a top notch thespian. No one wants to go home.
Paul Greenwood’s arrangements and musicianship are positively symbiotic, and he sings!
*Baby June – Louise’s sister (Gypsy Rose Lee’s sister) in Gypsy
** “Shiksa usually refers to an attractive (stereotypically blonde) gentile girl who might be a temptation to Jewish men or boys” Wickipedia
Photos by Maryann Lopinto
Anita Gillette: After All…
Paul Greenwood-Piano/Music Director
Steve Bartosik- Drums
Directed by Barry Kleinbort
315 West 44th Street
January 30, 2012