DIVA TALK: Chatting with Eartha Kitt Plus D'Abruzzo's Debut and News of Peters, White and More

Diva Talk   DIVA TALK: Chatting with Eartha Kitt Plus D'Abruzzo's Debut and News of Peters, White and More News, views and reviews about the multi-talented women of the musical theatre and the concert/cabaret stage.
Singer-actress Eartha Kitt
Singer-actress Eartha Kitt

EARTHA KITT

In a career that has spanned six decades, the multi-talented Eartha Kitt has conquered all stages: cabaret, concert and theatrical. The 78-year-old performer, most recently on Broadway in the Tony-winning revival of Nine, will return to one of her favorite haunts, the Cafe Carlyle, next week for an extended engagement at the intimate boite, playing May 31-July 2. Kitt possesses what may be the most distinctive voice in the business: part purr, part growl and chock-full of power and emotion. At the Carlyle, Kitt will lend that inimitable voice to a mix of new and favorite tunes. Although a song list has yet to be announced, the singing actress will likely offer such signature tunes as "I Want to Be Evil," "C'est Si Bon" and "I Will Survive." Featuring musical director Daryl Waters on piano, she will also be backed by Calvin Jones on bass, Brian Grice on drums and Tony Cintron on percussion. I recently had the chance to briefly chat with the spirited singer-actress; that interview follows.

Question: Are you excited about returning to the Carlyle?
Eartha Kitt: Yes, it's like a second home to me. Well, it had been for the past ten years or so until I left do Broadway productions.

Q: Was that a deliberate choice to stop the club work and focus your attention on theatre?
Kitt: Yes, because mostly I'm in legitimate theatre. That's where I was more or less [seen in the] beginning of my career — in legitimate theatre. And I love the theatre, and I love live performances, but when the Carlyle called and asked me if I would return, I said fine.

Q: What are some of the differences for you as a performer, acting in a show versus doing an evening at a cabaret?
Kitt: Well, an evening at a cabaret, you're out there all by yourself. [Laughs.] And it can be pretty scary, no matter how small the venue may be. But I love the intimacy of the cabaret. I wouldn't say that I am really [a] cabaret [singer] because I do theatre, and my act is mostly theatre that can be adapted to cabaret. It has always has been that way. But working in a play, of course, you've got that wonderful support — if you have wonderful support [laughs] — of a cast, and everything is working with you, around you. At a club, I think I'm a bit more nervous because I'm on my own. Q: Do you still find yourself getting nervous before a show?
Kitt: Oh yes . . . because you can't depend on what you've done in the past. You have to go for what your capable of doing now. Particularly since I've been in the business for over 60 years, you constantly have to be proving yourself. At least I feel that way — you can't just stand there and say, "Well, I've made it." You can't, you never have really made it, and I'm very grateful that I'm still — can I use the words "in demand"? [Laughs.] And, it gives me great pleasure to feel that at the age of 78 I'm still here! [Laughs.] . . . I love my work, and I love being out there in front of the public because that's where I feel comfortable and creative.

Q: What songs will you be performing at the Carlyle?
Kitt: That I don't know yet. Daryl Waters, my conductor, is on his way over here now. He'll be here about noon, and then we'll discuss what the line-up will be. If you sing too many old songs, they say, "Well, they're not new," and if you sing new songs, they say, "Well, she didn't sing the old songs." It's always a catch-22. I never know really what to do, so I have to keep guessing.

Q: Are you always on the lookout for new songs?
Kitt: They are very difficult to find because I like songs that tell a story and have something to say.

Q: You influenced a generation of singers — what singers have influenced you?
Kitt: That's interesting because I never thought about singing like anybody. And, I suppose, that's why the recording company [said], "She doesn't sound like anybody we know, she doesn't look like anybody we know. Where do we sell her?" I don't think a singer, per se, has influenced me; of course, I've gotten feelings from [different singers]. But traveling as much as I have, I think it's been a little bit of everything, and then [I] mold it into what I do.

Q: You were last on Broadway in Nine. What was that experience like for you?
Kitt: It was wonderful! I'm so sorry that it didn't last. Marvelous play, the music is great. But when it depends on one character, like the man, then I suppose it gets to a point where if that one person has been so strong in that character, such as [Antonio] Banderas was, then it weakens the show when [he] leaves. But the Nine girls, I tell you, those girls were wonderful, every one of them [was] absolutely marvelous. But what we needed was a strong man! [Laughs.] Not to say anything against [John] Stamos, but we are who we are. There's nothing we can do about it.

Q: Would you like to do more theatre at this point?
Kitt: That's one of the reasons why I didn't go back into the Carlyle because I love doing live theatre.

Q: At one point there was talk about a one-woman musical about your life, and you were going to work with Charles Randolph-Wright. . .
Kitt: Yes, but it fell apart. . .

Q: Would you still be interested in doing a production like that if the right collaborators came along?
Kitt: Yes, of course, with the right people. You need a strong director, somebody who's very creative, rather than just going along and saying, "Yes, that's fine. Let's do that. Let's do this." It's got to be a director — not to say anything against Randolph, because he was very good and he is very good. But I think I need somebody who is more into leading you in a [particular] direction . . . rather than just saying, "We'll take a bit of this and a bit of that."

Q: Do you get to see much theatre?
Kitt: Not as much as I'd like to, but when I'm at the Carlyle, yes, I will be seeing a lot of theatre because, as I said, that's my first love, and I wish that there were more theatre for me. [Laughs.] But [performing in] the concert [halls], I would like that to be more important while I'm waiting for [the next] show. . . I'm having a lot of fun doing the [large concert halls like] Mohegan Sun . . . I am such a lucky person that I wouldn't want to be anybody else in the world. I just like being me.

Q: You're definitely unique. . .
Kitt: [Laughs.] That's my problem! . . . It's not a problem for me, it's a problem for people who think, "Well, she's this and she's that . . . She's only a cabaret artist." But that's not true . . . I've been in various areas of the business all my life. It's like when I was with RCA Victor in the beginning. They never released records of mine that had to do with being romantic — [they] always released the naughty-girl records. She's the mischievous person when she's on the stage, so that's what they wanted me to be — the naughty girl. So that's what the public has gotten to know me as — a naughty cabaret entertainer. . . But I've done dramatic theatre. I got [Tony] nominated for Mrs. Patterson, which was a very dramatic part. And then I got nominated for Timbuktu!, which was a big musical, and I got nominated for The Wild Party.

Q: What was the experience of The Wild Party like?
Kitt: Wild! [Laughs.] It was wonderful, I loved it. It was also a great play.

Q: Last question: When people hear the name Eartha Kitt, what would you like them to think?
Kitt: [Growl.] That's what they do think! . . . I'd like them to remember me as a versatile artist of the business.

[The Café Carlyle is located within The Carlyle Hotel at Madison Avenue and 76th Street. Call (212) 744-1600 for reservations; visit www.thecarlyle.com for more information.]

DIVA TIDBITS

Stephanie D'Abruzzo proved a winning presence in her solo cabaret debut this past Monday night at the famed Manhattan jazz club Birdland. On her night off from Avenue Q, the singer-actress charmed with a mix of comedic and dramatic numbers as well as a few tunes rarely heard in New York cabaret. D'Abruzzo picked songs that fit her voice and style well, opening and closing with tongue-in-cheek versions of, respectively, the theme song from TV's "Alice" ("There's a New Girl in Town") and the Neil Sedaka-penned seventies chart-topper "Love Will Keep Us Together." Sandwiched in between were a touching, focused medley of "Someone Nice" and "I'll Never Fall in Love Again," a belty, heartfelt rendition of "You There in the Back Row" and great readings of Natalie Merchant's haunting "Verdi Cries" and Annie Lennox's "Little Bird." Altar Boyz composers Michael Patrick Walker (who was featured on piano) and Gary Adler penned two of the evening's comedic highlights: D'Abruzzo had great fun with the double entendres of Walker's "Mother's Advice," and she scored laugh after laugh with Adler's "If I Weren't Married." Admitting she was part of a "four uke" family, the Avenue Q star accompanied herself on the ukelele with an upbeat version of "Runnin' Wild" and also offered a wonderful tribute to her favorite vocalist, Blossom Dearie, with one of the jazz singer's signatures tunes, "Rhode Island Is Famous for You."

Tony Award winner Lillias White, recently seen on the New York stage in the City Center Encores! production of Purlie, will return to Joe's Pub this summer. Lillias White: 21st Annual Birthday Party will be presented at 7 and 9:30 PM on July 18, 21, 22 and 23. The concerts will celebrate the 21st anniversary of White's 21st birthday. Joe's Pub is located within the Public Theater at 425 Lafayette Street. Tickets, priced at $25, are available by calling (212) 239-6200 or by visiting www.telecharge.com.

Sally Mayes and Tony Award winner Linda Lavin will offer evenings of song this summer at Birdland. Part of Jim Caruso's "New Season," Mayes will perform at the jazz club Aug. 22 at 7 PM, and Lavin will follow Aug. 29 at 7 PM. The summer season will also feature performances by the acclaimed vocal group Toxic Audio (May 30), Malcolm Gets in a benefit for The Songbook Project (June 13), Christine Ebersole and Billy Stritch (July 18) and vocal group Monday Off (July 25). Birdland is located in Manhattan at 315 West 44th Street. Call (212) 581-3080 for reservations.

The annual "Broadway Under the Stars" concert in Bryant Park is scheduled for 8:30 PM June 13. Tony Award winner Scott Wittman — of Hairspray fame — will direct this year's concert, which will celebrate the songs of the late Cy Coleman and Fred Ebb and will feature a 30-piece live orchestra conducted by Phil Reno. In addition to a host of Broadway stars, the one-night-only event will also boast the Radio City Rockettes. CBS-2 in Manhattan will broadcast the concert on Saturday, June 18 at 7 PM ET.

For the first time in Tony Awards history, the TV Guide Channel will offer pre-show coverage of the annual awards from 7-8 PM ET on June 5. Additional presenters for the 59th Annual Tony Awards have also been announced. Those scheduled to present awards in the 25 Tony categories include Alan Alda, Joan Allen, Christina Applegate, Angela Bassett, Matthew Broderick, Mario Cantone, Don Cheadle, Marcia Cross, Jon Cryer, Laurence Fishburne, Jeff Goldblum, Ann Hathaway, Dennis Haysbert, Ethan Hawke, Allison Janney, James Earl Jones, Nathan Lane, Laura Linney, Jesse Martin, Idina Menzel, Esai Morales, Megan Mullally, Bernadette Peters, David Hyde Pierce, Sandra Oh, Doris Roberts, Emmy Rossum, Keri Russell, Liev Schreiber, Tony Shaloub, Julia Stiles, Kathleen Turner and Leslie Uggams. The 59th Annual Antoinette Perry "Tony" Awards® will be broadcast on CBS TV Sunday, June 5 from 8-11 PM ET. For the third consecutive year, Tony Award winner Hugh Jackman — on Broadway last season in The Boy From Oz — will host. Well, that's all for now. Happy diva-watching! E-mail questions or comments to agans@playbill.com.