Anita Gillette and Penny Fuller, sunny Broadway ingenues of the 1960s specializing in musical comedy, have more than 100 years of professional experience between them. While they were at some point likely competing for the same jobs — and Gillette followed Fuller as Sally Bowles replacements in the original production of Cabaret — they see themselves now as something like twin sisters. At least, that's how they put it in their cabaret act Oct. 2 at 54 Below.
Not twin sisters, exactly, but Sin Twisters (as they call their show). That's a spoonerism, they explain, a form of wordplay built on transposed consonants that was popular back in the 19th century but falls flat today. The act is built on spoonerisms — they keep cropping up — to little effect.
Gillette and Fuller start with "Friends," from The Apple Tree (with 89-year-old lyricist Sheldon Harnick looking on from a banquette), and the title song from Little Me. After demonstrating their compatibility with Quincy Jones' "Sistah (Miss Celie's Blues)" from the film "The Color Purple," they embark on too-brief outlines of their respective careers. (Gillette, who starred in such megaflops as All American, Mr. President and the legendary Kelly, surely has a clutch of interesting stories to tell, but instead we get spoonerisms.)
There is some discussion of songwriters — Gillette talks about her adventures with Irving Berlin (with whom she talked about their mutual hobby, fishing), Yip Harburg and Frank Loesser; Fuller has an anecdote about how the great Harold Arlen wrote a fragment of a song for her. They have fun with Berlin's countermelody duet "Pack Up Your Sins and Go to the Devil," and reminisce about their children: Fuller with Leslie Bricusse's "When I Look in Your Eyes" from "Doctor Dolittle" and Gillette with Stephen Sondheim's "Isn't He Something" from Road Show. The highlight of the act is Fuller's rendition of "One Hallowe'en," her commanding show-stopper from the 1970 musical Applause. That was more than half a lifetime ago, but Fuller demonstrates that her musical comedy skills are still sharp.
For the finale, they give us a mini-medley from Cabaret (which includes Fuller's very funny impersonation of Lotte Lenya singing "Married"). This builds, naturally enough, into the two former Sally Bowles singing "Cabaret" together. Having each played the role hundreds of times, they seem to have their performance of the song ingrained on their memory; you can see how they both must have made excellent, albeit different, Sallys. "You're the Top" was trotted out for an encore, with new "topical" lyrics that don't surpass Cole Porter's original.
The performance was directed by Barry Kleinbort, with musical direction by Paul Greenwood. Sin Twisters will be performed once more at 54 Below, Oct. 9.