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Review: AN EVENING WITH ANITA GILLETTE & LEE ROY REAMS at Birdland Showcases Storytelling, Camaraderie, and History

Together again for the first time, and it's about time.

Review: AN EVENING WITH ANITA GILLETTE & LEE ROY REAMS at Birdland Showcases Storytelling, Camaraderie, and History

Last night, a Birdland audience got a little glimpse at how a nightclub act is put together so that it can operate successfully in the club and concert industry... at least one of the ways that a club act is created,,, and how two experts in the craft of musical storytelling can make the magic happen on the turn of a dime, as the saying goes.

After opening their show (appropriately titled AN EVENING WITH Anita Gillette AND Lee Roy Reams) with the Stephen Sondheim classics "Old Friends" and "Wherever We Go" (with Jule Styne) the dual Tony Award nominees spent several minutes dishing with one another and their audience about how they ended up together for the first time ever, in spite of knowing each other, socially, for years. And why shouldn't they know each other for years? The theater and club industry of New York City is a family, as well as an entertainment factory, where everybody meets at least once, and eventually might become chums. Many is the time that these chums meet and re-meet at parties, benefits, and the odd Tony Awards broadcast, even though they might never share a stage together. So when Birdland owner Gianni Valenti spotted Anita in the Birdland basement for a Comstock and Fasano show (Sean Smith on bass) he offered Gillette (a Birdland regular) an upcoming club date. Gillette (inarguably one of the hardest working women in the business) had the wild thought of inviting Reams to share the stage and help her fill up an hour of musical storytelling for the Birdland set. And so, armed with no more than a plethora of emails from New York to London (where Anita can often be found cooling her heels), their natural talent and charm, and selections from their own solo shows, Lee Roy Reams and Anita Gillette put together their club act, squeezed in six hours of rehearsal, and hit the boards.

And it was pure Broadway magic.

Review: AN EVENING WITH ANITA GILLETTE & LEE ROY REAMS at Birdland Showcases Storytelling, Camaraderie, and History

Review: AN EVENING WITH ANITA GILLETTE & LEE ROY REAMS at Birdland Showcases Storytelling, Camaraderie, and History The two mates from the other side of Eighth Avenue made occasional jokes about those six hours of rehearsal, about "getting through" a number that was new to them, about learning new material, and other such hurdles with which they dealt while creating their act, under the constraints of time and geography - but the little foibles and the under-rehearsed nature of the evening is part of what made it so incredibly charming. The natural and jovial quality of their interaction was constant cause for laughter and applause from the audience. This is a slightly odd couple, but not as odd as one might think. As a woman with grandchildren and silver hair, Anita made great, good use of Lee Roy's (rather infamous) propensity toward naughtiness to pull laughs from the crowd, and as the more junior member of the duo (by six years), Lee Roy openly and unabashedly gazed at Anita with the ardor and adoration of a mentee looking at a mentor. These are attitudes that these two bonafide Broadway stars adopted for their show, but when it came down to the strictest observances of quality entertainment, their years are showing because Anita Gillette and Lee Roy Reams are storytellers of the highest order. Indeed, even as they are both exceptional actors, Reams and Gillette are perfect examples of the supreme benefit of cabaret storytelling. Because they understand the craft of using a three minute monologue as set up and a four minute song as a story, Gillette and Reams are able to tell story after story after story, sharing the characters and the poetry with a visibly moved audience, before returning to the impish and bawdy personalities that makes the audience love them in the first place. It really is the best of both worlds because the patrons get musical theater acting, and they get to spend actual physical time with Lee Roy Reams and Anita Gillette.

Review: AN EVENING WITH ANITA GILLETTE & LEE ROY REAMS at Birdland Showcases Storytelling, Camaraderie, and History Observe how both Gillette and Reams go into a dream-like state in their storytelling efforts - she on a medley of "How Deep Is The Ocean" and "Remember" and he during the ballads "Time Heals Everything" and "I Won't Send Roses" in a showstopping Mack and Mabel medley. No case of two actors standing on stage singing lyrics is this - this is musical cabaret storytelling, with characters, story arcs, and complete and utter investment. It's enough to make a person sigh and, indeed, last night people were sighing, as well they should have. These are gems, right here before us, Broadway royalty, musical theater treasures, and they have stories to share, not only in songs that are both sentimental and humorous, but in their own personal anecdotes from their lives, and their lives in the theater, which have informed their solo shows and continue to inform this one, which is a stroke of luck for people seeing them for the first time, and for the fans who go to see Anita and Lee Roy for the express purpose of hearing their greatest hits.

Review: AN EVENING WITH ANITA GILLETTE & LEE ROY REAMS at Birdland Showcases Storytelling, Camaraderie, and History Any fan of Anita's Irving Berlin tribute show who craves a story about "Hilda Schneid-A" (best when pronounced with a Brooklyn accent) got their fix. Any fan of Lee Roy's Jerry Herman tribute show got to languish in that tour-de-force medley that includes just about every song from Mack and Mabel. Anybody that wanted to hear the stories about Mona The Mistress and Moonstruck was made happy last night, and anybody who wanted to witness some of Lee Roy's deliciously inappropriate humor got their wish. People go to see live acts hoping for the songs and the stories they have heard before - this writer has heard Betty Buckley say that, when she took "Memory" out of her show, people wanted their money back, and has also heard Margaret Cho say that she can be bombing, completely tanking, during a show but if she will pull out a story about her Mother's answering machine messages, she can get her audience back. Fans of Gillette and Reams go to their shows hoping for a couple of new tunes, and needing the stories about Hilda Schneider and Carol Channing. So when Lee Roy and Anita hit that Birdland stage last night, they were prepared to give the audience a perfect balance of just that: they had their Sondheim duet, and they did a Berlin duet (an absolutely perfect "You're Just In Love") and they had so much chemistry during their delightful discussion (which may or may not have been rehearsed or off-the-cuff, who can tell, and who cares?) that, speaking very honestly, it would have been thoroughly enjoyable to simply have the twosome sit on the stage and reminisce. It would have been, but, no, that would have deprived the audience of Anita's still supple soprano high notes (which are made available, amidst some whisky tenor comedy numbers) and Lee Roy's power belting, which remains impressive, at any age.

Review: AN EVENING WITH ANITA GILLETTE & LEE ROY REAMS at Birdland Showcases Storytelling, Camaraderie, and History And age shouldn't matter when it comes to live entertainment, but it does because these two performers paramount have reached an age where the stories they have to tell are more important, more valuable, more vital to us all. Like having an audience with your favorite Nana and your Gay Grandpa, the opportunity to sit at the feet of Anita Gillette and Lee Roy Reams must not be missed. They are the fabric of Broadway, they are the history of American Musical Theater, and to sit in the room and hear their stories is to be taken in a time machine into a beautiful past that, these days, you have to read a book or watch an F/X miniseries to get to. Why bother with that, when you can just buy a ticket and get the history lesson in person, with musical numbers to make more replete the storytelling journey?

This may have been a night of cabaret theater thrown together in five weeks and rehearsed in six hours because of a casual offer of a time slot from Misters Valenti and Caruso (and Birdland time slots are not a commodity to be gotten every day of the week), but the fact of the matter is that Mister Reams and Miss Gillette have something here. They are really good together - they have a spark between them, a palpable friendship, musical skills, and he has her back when she loses her place (as does exemplary Musical Director Phil Reno, who brought his A-Game last night). These two mates could very well spend a couple of afternoons fine-tuning their act (not too much - we don't want to lose their lovely spontaneity) to give them a little more structure (which only helps a cabaret artist), they could spend a few afternoons working with Reno and a director of their choosing, and they could really build something wonderful here that could play the clubs of NYC and other cities, venues, and resorts where people have a hankering to see Broadway royalty engaged in the act of sublime storytelling - which is precisely what last night at Birdland was all about: Broadway royalty and sublime storytelling. Besides, Gillette and Reams even sounds like a nightclub team, doesn't it?

No question: last night at Birdland was definitely the start of something important.

For great Birdland shows, visit their website HERE.

Anita Gillette has a website HERE and Lee Roy Reams has Facebook HERE.

Review: AN EVENING WITH ANITA GILLETTE & LEE ROY REAMS at Birdland Showcases Storytelling, Camaraderie, and History

Review: AN EVENING WITH ANITA GILLETTE & LEE ROY REAMS at Birdland Showcases Storytelling, Camaraderie, and History Review: AN EVENING WITH ANITA GILLETTE & LEE ROY REAMS at Birdland Showcases Storytelling, Camaraderie, and History Review: AN EVENING WITH ANITA GILLETTE & LEE ROY REAMS at Birdland Showcases Storytelling, Camaraderie, and History Review: AN EVENING WITH ANITA GILLETTE & LEE ROY REAMS at Birdland Showcases Storytelling, Camaraderie, and History Review: AN EVENING WITH ANITA GILLETTE & LEE ROY REAMS at Birdland Showcases Storytelling, Camaraderie, and History Review: AN EVENING WITH ANITA GILLETTE & LEE ROY REAMS at Birdland Showcases Storytelling, Camaraderie, and History Review: AN EVENING WITH ANITA GILLETTE & LEE ROY REAMS at Birdland Showcases Storytelling, Camaraderie, and History Review: AN EVENING WITH ANITA GILLETTE & LEE ROY REAMS at Birdland Showcases Storytelling, Camaraderie, and History

Review: AN EVENING WITH ANITA GILLETTE & LEE ROY REAMS at Birdland Showcases Storytelling, Camaraderie, and History Review: AN EVENING WITH ANITA GILLETTE & LEE ROY REAMS at Birdland Showcases Storytelling, Camaraderie, and History Photos by Stephen Mosher


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From This Author - Stephen Mosher