The Playbill Vault Remembers Tony Nominee Eartha Kitt

News   The Playbill Vault Remembers Tony Nominee Eartha Kitt
Legendary singer-actress Eartha Kitt, who was twice nominated for a Tony Award, died Dec. 25, 2008, at the age of 81. The Playbill Vault looks back at some of her most memorable Broadway performances.

Kitt began her career as a member of the Katherine Dunham Company, a groundbreaking African American modern dance troupe whose work influenced prominent dance figures like Alvin Ailey.

After dancing on Broadway in Katherine Dunham's productions of Carib Song and Bal Negre, Kitt garnered critical attention with her turn in New Faces of 1952. Featuring sketches by Mel Brooks and music by Sheldon Harnick, the musical revue opened May 16, 1952, with then newcomers Alice Ghostley, Carol Lawrence and Paul Lynde.

Kitt stole the show with "Monotonous" and "Bal, Petit Bal," two songs she would later become known for. In his New York Times review, Brooks Atkinson wrote: "Eartha Kitt not only looks incendiary but she can make a song burst into flame." The revue ran for 365 performances at the Royale Theatre.

Read the New Faces of 1952 Playbill here.

During the 1950s Kitt landed starring roles in Mrs. Patterson, Shinbone Alley and the short-lived Jolly's Progress. In 1978, she returned to the Broadway stage after a 19-year absence in Timbuktu!, a revised version of the musical Kismet. Kitt played the central role of Sahleem-La-Lume in a cast that included Melba Moore, Gilbert Price and Ira Hawkins.

The production opened March 1, 1978, at the Mark Hellinger Theatre and ran for 221 performances. The New York Times' Richard Eder called it a "lackluster show" with "relatively little to offer," but praised Kitt's "remarkable qualities" as a performer.

"Her lion face, which accommodates vast sultriness and a note of gleeful mockery at one and the same time," wrote Eder, "makes up for a fair amount of the show's other weaknesses." Kitt received a Tony Award nomination for Best Actress in a Musical. 

Read the Timbuktu! Playbill in the Vault.

Twenty-two years later she appeared in The Wild Party, Michael John LaChiusa's musical adaptation of Joseph Moncure March's narrative poem of the same name. The cast featured such notable performers as Norm Lewis, Mandy Patinkin, Tonya Pinkins and Toni Collette in her Broadway debut. 

Directed by George C. Wolfe, the musical opened April 13, 2000, at the Virginia Theatre, where it ran for 68 performances. Kitt earned a second Tony Award nomination for her portrayal of Dolores, a fading stage star hanging on to her glamorous past.

Read the opening-night Playbill of The Wild Party here.

In 2003, Kitt joined the cast of the Tony-winning revival of Maury Yeston's Nine. She succeeded Chita Rivera in the role of Liliane La Fleur on Oct. 7, 2003, the same day John Stamos replaced Antonio Banderas as Guido Contini and Marni Nixon replaced Mary Beth Peil as Guido's Mother. Nine marked Kitt's final Broadway performance.

Read more about Eartha Kitt's theatrical history in the Vault.

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