BWW Review: THE DISAPPEARANCE OF EARTHA KITT is Purrrrfectly Fierce at Vincent Victoria Productions
THE DISAPPEARANCE OF Eartha Kitt is a lot like the real life star it is based on.... a little kooky, over the top, sort of sexy, and exotically entertaining. One can't help but imagine Eartha herself would be flattered by Vincent Victoria's production that chronicles her life up to her comeback in 1978's TIMBUKTU. The show is a valentine to the rolling "r" and the unique charisma that was Kitt. It was a dazzling life, and we get to see quite a bit of it in this play.
Because no actress could ever recreate the many facets of this icon the director wisely enlisted no less than four women to portray Eartha Kitt in varying stages. In another interesting turn, these ladies often appear together and speak in unison like a Greek chorus of sex kittens relating the story. What it means is each actress is free to express her "Eartha-ness" using the best of her abilities. 1968 Eartha is played by Pasha Angelle who looks the most like the real life lady, and she has the vocal cadence down pat. She gets to portray the pivotal moment at the White House where Eartha spoke out on the Vietnam War and poverty and ended up on the President's personal hit list. She's the best actress of the three. In contrast Erica Young is the "sex kitten" early career Eartha. She sings and dances the best, and is charged with carrying many of the musical numbers that recreate the unique singing delivery of the chanteuse. There is also Pashion Duncan who gets to play the regal "Comeback Eartha". She plays Grand Dame extremely well, and brings a world weariness other actresses could never embody. Venise Watson plays the youngest version, and she is sweetly innocent and dreamy enough to carry that part of Eartha's life. Venise also makes a convincing Melba Moore which is an ironic turn that comes later in the evening. Together these four work together to create what feels like we are witnessing Eartha materialize in front of us. It's a joyful treat to meet each version, and a perfect way to handle the needs of portraying this much history.
Vincent Victoria has assembled his reliable "company" of local talent to fill out the rest of the cast to play many parts swirling around Eartha's star. Todd Greenfield and Katie Morgan recreate LBJ and Ladybird Johnson. Neither truly looks old enough to pull off the physical part, but they certainly carry themselves well enough to create the illusion of the President and his First Lady. Most of the rest of the ensemble pulls out many roles, and all do a fine job supporting the vision. Standouts include Wykesha King, Carlos Sanchez, CarrieLee Sparks, and Michael Venebale who all add extra oomph to their parts. There is a sly and funny cameo where the director himself steps in as the director of Eartha's Broadway show. Honestly there's a great sense of ensemble, and each actor adds to the production's charm and frenetic energy. They whirl through the space so quickly sometimes it's hard not to worry about them, but they are pros through and through.
Technically it's a straightforward show with just enough set to evoke the places. Costumes are period perfect, and often actually mirror actual outfits made famous in photographs of the people. Nicholas Lewis and Daniel Brown have kept it simple, and that is the right choice given the smaller space. Musical direction by Julio Petersen is spot on and well executed. It goes along without a hitch, and adds so much to the show.
Vincent Victoria has made a name for himself by recreating black female icons that loom large over our cultural imagination. Eartha Kitt like Lena Horne defied the beauty standards of her time to create her own definition of what a leading lady should look and act like. This production shows a lot of love for its subject, and a respect in presenting a sense of her that rings true throughout. The best part about the show is that his cast has completely bought in to his mission, and they embrace it as their own. It challenges the audience's perception of who Eartha was, and reminds us that Presidents truly have interfered with citizens before our era of being called out on Twitter. There will never be another Eartha Kitt, but thankfully there are projects like this one that remind us why she was a national treasure. We could use more like her right now - women of conviction who never hesitate to speak their mind. And women wild enough to tame even Batman.
THE DISAPPEARANCE OF Eartha Kitt runs through December 15th at Midtown Art Center. Tickets can be acquired through https://www.vincentvictoriapresents.com/ or directly at https://www.eventbrite.com/e/the-disappearance-of-eartha-kitt-tickets-69192999123 .