- CHARITY BENEFIT
By: Susan Hasho
Anita Gillette began her show at Birdland Monday night with several random Italian/Spanish songs. A little zippy, but I wasn’t sure where we were going. The first 20 minutes were cheerful but undirected. And THEN she began to talk about her life and the theatre—and we were never at a loss after that.
Once she began with, “I’ve been Googling myself…a lot,” she was off and running, alternating story and song. She began with her first marriage to Dr. Gillette Teach Me Tonight, her first job with Ethel Merman in Gypsy and then as Anna Marie Alberghetti’s understudy in Carnival with a beautifully interpreted song Mira. Her young actress on the town phase was described in the song I Need Some Nightlife and punctuated by Ms. Gillette shouting “I want to twist till I’m arrested!” Her humor never flagged and the audience was totally in love.
She went on to talk about Irving Berlin. She had developed a close relationship with him when she was playing in All American at the Winter Garden theatre. His office was above the theatre and he liked to come down and watch the show. He cast her in Mr. President as the President’s daughter and wrote a witty song The Secret Service (“the Secret Service makes me nervous and I can’t…)” just for her. Her admiration and love for Berlin was clear in the Berlin medley, How Deep is the Ocean and Remember.
She has a wit and intelligence that make her storytelling funny and touching. Her story of being drunk in Lyndon Johnson’s White House is a tale one is surprised and grateful to be told.
She mentioned being in the movie Moonstruck, and sang “he may be your man, but he comes to see me sometimes…” One of the best arrangements of the evening was a samba rendition of Shall We Dance; the most effective song was sung about her second husband Armand– I Still Believe in Love.
She closed with a quote from a woman she met in LA while trying to work in real estate during an acting drought. She recreated this old, toothless tenant telling her, “Don’t postpone joy.” Repeated through the lisp several times to be understood, this short character imitation illustrated quite clearly the resilience and humor and talent with which Anita Gillette has marched full on through her life. She is a total delight and an inspiration.