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BWW Review: In Birdland Return, Anita Gillette's Songs & Anecdotes Are Charming & Delightful in SO, AS I WAS SAYING . . .

Ninety percent of the way into her ebullient show last night at Birdland, So, As I Was Saying, Anita Gillette quotes a 1977 review of her performance in Neil Simon's Chapter Two that stated the warmth she exudes could melt glaciers. (The artist wasn't bragging, but was referring to her then difficulty in finding any glaciers, i.e., men to melt.) The description applies today.

A packed audience comprised both of devoted civilian fans and theatrical luminaries cheered on the latest iteration of Gillette's dramatized life. Once again directed by Barry Kleinbort with musically directed by Paul Greenwood (who also appealingly sings duets), with Ritt Henn on bass and John Redsecker on drums, the show is as sincere and bubbly as the lady herself.

We hear about a crush on gangly, 15-year-old Millard, who first introduced her to Irving Berlin's "Blue Skies" (this Oh Daddy rendition, based on an old Johnny Long recording from a rendition by Slim Gaillard, is the hippest you will ever hear). There's also a tale of her liberated Aunt Thelma and her hillbilly sisters ("High Plains Jamboree" by Terry Allen sounds like authentic country), and the story about Gillette's "very tight skirt" ripping on the way to a New York audition, during which we see her as an ingénue. Performing the requisite ballad and upbeat number, "Bubbles, Bangles and Beads" (Alexander Borodin/Robert Wright/George Forrest) and "I'm Just Wild About Harry" (Eubie Blake/Nobel Sissel), she gets carried away and turns around."So I got that job."

Cast as Linda in "Pal Joey" (Richard Rodgers/Lorenz Hart), Gillette would much rather have played the sizzling Gladys. A duet with Greenwood of the jauntily arranged, well meshed "Plant You Now" and "You Mustn't Kick It Around" somewhat assuages that memory. The artist purveys a bouncy, hip-swinging walk and her vocal adds brass. Greenwood is a fine partner. Gillette performed "It Never Was You" (Kurt Weill/ Maxwell Anderson) in a production of Knickerbocker Holiday co-starring Burt Lancaster, who was it seems, serious about singing. Perched on a stool, she offers a poignant interpretation. This is an actress. Moods are manifest and sustained.

In the same delicious vein, "I'll Never Go There Anymore" (Moose Charlap/Eddie Lawrence) and "Isn't He Something?" (Stephen Sondheim from Bounce) are delicate highlights; the first a bittersweet reverie, the second, ostensibly about her sons, bursting with love and pride.

Arrangements are excellent throughout. Stringing together "Everyone Needs Someone" (Barry Kleinbort), "Did I Ever Really Live?" (Albert Hague/Allan Sherman) and "I Still Believe In Love" (Marvin Hamlish/Carole Bayer Sager) works wonderfully. The storyteller in Gillette excels. Vocal backup by Greenwood and Henn add buoyancy and texture.

The show is a little long and jokes are too often ba-dump-dump vaudeville (and unnecessary as Gillette is sufficiently effervescent without them). And a bit more rehearsal would've served her well. Still, we're with her all the way, captivated, entertained, and yes, warmed.

Photos by Maryann Lopinto


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From This Author Alix Cohen