The appeal of Anita Gillette lies in her combination of performing talent and sheer likability. She is who she is, and her skill and charm were abundantly radiant as she performed at Birdland last night, September 28, in her show titled “Anita Gillette: So, as I was Saying.”
She deftly tied her repertoire to anecdotes about her life and career in show business, and she has indeed had an illustrious career yielding plenty to talk about as a result of her work on Broadway, on television, in films and in night spots. She has done it all, so her comments are not mere patter but entertaining stories that reflect her personality and her take on show business.
Add her ability to put over a song, and you have the ingredients for the intimate connection she can make with an audience, as was the case in the conducive setting of Birdland, which has earned a place as a favorite supper club stop for noted talent.
Recalling her life in Baltimore, where she grew up, Gillette cited the inspiration she received when her mother and her mother’s sisters liked to sit around singing “High Plains Jamboree,” which she performed. Cut to her report of an embarrassing incident when as a newcomer she went to an open call-Broadway audition with a last-minute tear in the the back of her skirt, which she tried to conceal by backing up to the piano. In repeating the number “I’m Just Wild About Harry,” she demonstrated how she ultimately turned about revealing the split. Her kicker line: “They may not have been wild about Harry, but they were sure wild about me.”
There was variety in her song choices. She could bring a jaunty spirit to Irving Berlin’s “Blue Skies” or bring ultra tenderness to “It Never Was You” By Kurt Weill and Maxwell Anderson. Her sense of fun erupted in singing (and demonstrating) Irving Berlin’s “Song for a Belly Dancer,” for which her dance instructor, attractive Danielle Quisenberry, joined her. Gillette wiggled and gyrated with belly movements as she tried to keep up with the dancing of her teacher. The effect was hilarious.
Among other numbers I enjoyed as a result of Gillette’s interpretations were “I’ll never Go There Anymore;” “Isn’t He Something” (sung after motherly talk about her sons); “Baby Elephant Walk” (performed with her imitating elephant movements and after an amusing story about a commercial involving an elephant); “Ev’ryone Needs Someone” (written by Barry Kleinbort, who directed her show) and “Life is Just a Bowl of Cherries.” There was a lot more. Her musicians included Paul Greenwood on piano and also her musical director, Ritt Henn on bass and John Redsecker on drums.
There were a bit too many thank you citations at the end, but that is understandable in light of Gillette’s openness in wanting to appreciate all those with whom she has had professional associations. There were a few glitches with mikes, for example, but Gillette has the ability to take all in stride and make the experience easygoing and seeming natural for a one-night-only stand that could use more working out in a longer run.
And as for her life history, what other actress can come up with an anecdote about a suitor who showed up outside the theater where she was performing in a suit of shining armor with a white horse on which to whisk her away? At Birdland, 315 West 44th Street. Phone: 212-581-3080. Reviewed September 29, 2015.