Former Broadway showgirl and friend of Irving Berlin Anita Gillette delights in sharing her backstage meomories in her cabaret at St James Studio.
“…first hand recollections of her friend Irving Berlin. There are not many artists left who are able to share personal accounts of conversations with that legend!..“
Tony award nominated actress and singer Anita Gillette opened her show at St James Theatre with her autobiographical work ‘After All’. It is a collection of backstage memories from her days as a young Broadway showgirl in the original cast of “Gypsy’ with Ethel Merman, and spanning several decades.
This is a good choice of cabaret for the new St James Theatre studio, fitting their brief in terms of it being a show about life in the theatre, and of course full of behind-the –scenes anecdotes.
Immediately declaring her current indifference to life’s traumas, she opened with a medley of Gershwin’s ‘I Can’t Be Bothered Now’ and Loesser’s ‘Happy Go Lucky’ to an exuberant reception.
The songs she chose were partly from shows she had appeared in, and some that simply illustrated certain moments in her life. Ones that stood out were Johnny Mercer’s ‘Teach Me Tonight’ speaking of her first husband Dr Gillette educating her, which not only showed her upper register well revealing her classical training, but allowed us to see ‘her’. Others were the wicked and raunchy ‘He May Be Your Man’, which she forgot some words to, but the audience were so much on her side it didn’t matter, and the hilariously funny encore number Fran Landesman’s ‘I Can’t Say Cahnt’.
As she told us her stories of Ethel Merman saving her job for her in ‘Gypsy’ when she became pregnant, and having to do two auditions to secure a part where the casting breakdown was specifically for ‘…an Anita Gillette type..’ (!), we warmed ever more to her endearing personality and self-deprecating wit. She went on to regale us with tales of disgracing herself in drunken capers at The White House, and touchingly, first hand recollections of her friend Irving Berlin. There are not many artists left who are able to share personal accounts of conversations with that legend! This led to an affecting tribute to him in a medley of ballads ‘How Deep is the Ocean’ and ‘Remember’.
It is startling to reflect that this is Anita’s first foray into cabaret. She wisely engaged the services of experienced cabaret director Barry Kleinbort, who has structured the show skillfully, and Musical Director Paul Greenwood whose arrangements added comic touches and texture to the evening.
Anita has not performed in London since the production of ‘Pocohontas’ at the Lyric, Shaftesbury Avenue fifty years ago. The show was panned, though she herself was well received. Now she has returned with a most respectable vehicle; and while ‘life story’-type shows such as this can sometimes veer into self-congratulation or mawkishness, it is to her and Kleinbort’s credit that is never happens.