Arts & Entertainment

At 80, Eartha Kitt

Off and on, I've been waiting over 30 years for a chance to see Eartha Kitt live. I wanted to, but my schedule wouldn't permit me to make it over to the Carlyle Hotel in New York when she was a regular there a few years back. Then, when she came to the Blues Alley in D.C., I didn't find out until too late. So it was a sheer delight to have her come back to D.C. as part of her 80th birthday celebration tour Saturday night at the Warner Theatre.

People, this is Catwoman! And she has been soooo much more. If you check her out on the Internet Movie Data Base (IMDB), you will get some idea of her movie, TV, Broadway and musical achievements, including nominations for Tony, Grammy and Emmy awards. Then there are all her CDs marking her incredible live musical performance career.

But to the concert. At 80, she is amazing. Blue velvet gown in act one, red velvet in act two. This woman exudes sexiness and at the same time a crackling wit and perfect timing.  Nice legs, much less for 80.

Her songs run the gamut from torch ballads like the 1954 Kay Starr hit, "If You Love Me" (which drew a standing ovation from the sell-out house), to sharp and sexy songs about the relationship of, shall I say, love and money. I can't reconstruct the hilarious lyrics here, but typical was a song about catching a glimpse of her husband cheating on her, then her taking inventory of their rotten relationship all along (such as "having really good sex once a year") and then asking, "Should I leave you?" She paused and went on, "How about asking 'should you leave me?'….leave me your house, your bank account, 90 percent of everything you make," and so on.

More than once, her eyes would lock onto a handsome older gentleman sitting on the front row, and she'd stand motionless and stare, periodically rubbing her hand along her hip. Those long stares drew great laughter from the audience. At the end of one particularly long one, she spoke softly into the microphone with her amazingly distinctive voice, "Don't just sit there, do something!" After another long stare later in the show, she said, "Where's your father?"

One of the most hilarious routines was the only time another person besides her and her jazz group accompaniment came on stage. It was a tall and handsome young waiter, dressed in a tux, who stood very still with a tray holding a bottle of wine and a wine glass. The way she silently "checked him out," from top to bottom, front to back, was a riot. Someone from the audience shouted, "You go girl!," to much laughter. She then made her approach, asking him, "How old are you?" He replied, "24." She said "Don't you know, no one is 24 anymore?" To buck up her courage, she asked him to pour her a glass of wine and she drank it quickly. Mind you, all the time the band is playing behind them and she is singing some lines. Then she asked him for another glass of wine, which he poured. This time, she took it and poured it down his mouth. Then she did it again. She asked him, "Are you getting near 82 yet?" She continued to pour wine into him, asking "Let me know when you get to 94." They then walked off arm and arm to the great pleasure of all.

Another song included the line, "When I hit my prime," and she paused just enough for the crowd to appreciate its irony coming from her, and she drew another big laugh. She opened the show, appropriately, with "I'm Still Here," which aroused the house from the get-go, and she did classic numbers like "Come-on a My House," "All My Life," "La Vie En Rose," "Charleston," "I Want to Be Evil," "Ain't Misbehavin," "When the World Was Young, "Everything Changes," "C'est Si Bon," "September Song," "It Was a Very Good Year," and more. She brought it to an end with a rousing "Here's to Life."

At 80, this woman has been 65 years in show business, and that included a six year hiatus when she was blacklisted in the U.S. because she stood up to speak out against the Vietnam War at a formal White House event in 1968. She was forced to go overseas to continue her career after that, but was welcomed back warmly to the U.S. after the end of the Vietnam War, when the whole nation had turned against it, with a grand concert at Carnegie Hall. Last summer, she did another Carnegie Hall show, this time to celebrate her 80th birthday after a breathtaking list of amazing accomplishments. What a gal!