Eartha Kitt: A Purr-fect Evening

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Eartha Kitt – with Music Director Daryl Waters (piano), Brian Oliver Grice (drums), John Calvin (double bass), Carlos Gomez (percussion) & Joseph Morgan Friedman (guitar)


Reviewed by: Michael Darvell

Reviewed: 17 February, 2007
Venue: Shaw Theatre, London

Just how long has singer, dancer, actress, cabaret artist and all-round flirt Eartha Kitt been a legend? Well, she turned 80 this year, so I reckon she’s been reinventing herself for some 70 years or so. The flirting part of her CV is vital to her stage act. She has an immediate rapport with her fans and she has a way of fixing them with both eyes and psyching them out until someone gives in, at which point she bursts into laughter. It never fails to work and she is a past mistress at winning over her audience with a mixture of sexual innuendo, allure and just good honest flirting. The lady’s had a lifetime to perfect – or purr-fect – her image and influence her live act. After all, she wasn’t Catwoman in the Batman television series for nothing, you know.

You might think you would have to make allowances for a lady of a certain age, but even at 80 she is still kittenish and in great shape – originally a dancer she retains the dancer’s discipline. She can literally bend over backwards, her body is so lithe, and can reveal a well-turned leg as she exposes a single glamorous limb, to show she still has all the sex appeal of a woman half her age, as the men in the front row are willing to acknowledge. And none of this is at all salacious or embarrassing. It’s just an image that Eartha has cultivated for herself and the reason why Orson Welles called her “the most exciting woman in the world.”

Although her performances and her albums have included many standard songs, we chiefly know her for those numbers that send up or perpetuate the image of a good-time girl that Kitt has always created, such as “I want to be evil”, “Santa Baby”, ”If I can’t take it with me when I go”, “Englishmen take their time”, “I want a man” and “Just an old-fashioned girl” with its litany of ‘sugar-daddy’ requirements – ‘I like the old-fashioned flowers/Violets are for me/Have them made in diamonds by the man at Tiffany/I want an old-fashioned house with an old-fashioned fence and an old-fashioned millionaire…” – and all delivered in that signature purring style. These are the songs that clever cat Kitt has made all her own.

Rather bravely she begins her act with “I’m Still Here”, a number she sang in the 1987 London production of Stephen Sondheim’s “Follies”. In the show it’s the finale to Part One but maybe here Eartha is using it as a statement of intent, after overcoming some serious health problems last year. She makes the final verse of the number with the line ‘I got through all of last year/And I’m here!’ into something with added poignancy. That said, however, I didn’t care for the fast, up-tempo arrangement of a number that is supposed to be a contemplation on a lifetime of ups and downs. It needs a more considered approach, but it’s always good to hear. Later she sings “I Will Survive”, another anthem for women of a certain age. Elsewhere her music director of 20 years, Daryl Waters, an excellent pianist, serves the singer with some terrific arrangements and they are played by a fine group of musicians.

Multilingual Kitt has always taken songs from around the world for her cabaret act, the most famous being “Uska Dara”, a Turkish song for which she even supplies a belly-dancing routine. But it is the French chanson at which Eartha excels, and her versions of “La vie en rose” and “Darling, je vous aimé beaucoup” are spot-on. Add Kurt Weill’s “September Song”, “What is this thing called love?”, “I’ve got my love to keep me warm”, “Guess who I saw today?” and “C’est si bon” among many others and you have a song-list that makes the perfect cabaret act. Ending on “Here’s to life” and giving “Bye bye, mein lieber Herr” as an encore, Eartha Kitt brings her show to a fitting end and brings the house down with it. Let’s hope it’s not another fifteen years before we see her again.

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