BWW Review: Jenelle Lynn Randall Brings Eartha Kitt to Feinstein's
Actress/singer Jenelle Lynn Randall got raves for her participation in this year's Hollywood Fringe Festival. She premiered her one woman play with music about the life of actress/songstress Eartha Kitt entitled I Wanna Be Evil: The Eartha Kitt Story. For one night only Randall brought her evening to Feinstein's at Vitello's on Monday September 16 and was totally engaging, sparking a great big hit.
Kitt was sultry with a purr that would stop a clock. She was born into poverty as a cotton plantation worker in the South with no father and a mother who cast her out, and her story is inspirational. She was down throughout many periods of her life but managed to rise above it all to become one of the most talented and famous performers of all time.
Randall's portrayal of Kitt is nothing short of remarkable. She sounds and allows herself to look like Kitt without going to extremes. She has a totally natural approach that makes her performance real and completely affecting. She pulled me in from the very top and never let go. Backed by extraordinary accompanist Abdul Hamid Robinson-Royal the 80 minute set had an hour of Kitt, and then Randall emerged as herself for the last 20 minutes and blew the roof off Feinstien's at Vitello's with "I Am Changing" from Dreamgirls. She had sung in the chorus of the original company with Jennifer Holliday.
Musical highlights of the evening included: "C'est Si Bon", Kitt's signature tune, "I Wanna Be Evil", "Let's Fall in Love", "Ain't Misbehavin" with a delightful stroll through the audience captivating a few male audience members ... sitting on their laps and purring, "I'm Still Here", "Santa Baby", of course, her other signature song and the aforementioned "I Am Changing".
Memorable stories included her liaison with dancer/dance teacher Katherine Dunham who was responsible for bringing Kitt to Europe, her friendship with Nat King Cole, which may or may not have been a romantic affair...Randall kept it tantalizing and mysterious ... and my favorite her appearance in Washington during the Johnson adminstration in 1968. She was invited to attend a conference on juvenile delinquency. When she rose up and argued about more jobs, less taxes and demanded that we pull out of Viet Nam, Johnson blacklisted her. She went to Europe and returned almost 10 years later to star on Broadway in Timbuktu, which won her a Tony Award nomination.
As far as men are concerned, Randall as Kitt said it all when she stated, "a man has always wanted to lay me down but never wanted to pick me up". Kitt engaged in many sexual trysts, but more than payed for it. She always managed to rise above, though, to lead a full and fruitful life.
Randall opened up the floor to questions that she answered with short, fun responses showing Kitt's honesty and friendly manner with her fans. An example was "Was there a celebrity you would like to to have had an affair with but didn't?" She insinuated that there were many but cautiously didn't mention any names.
Hopefully, Randall will continue to enhance this show and bring it to Broadway. In the meantime, don't miss her whenever and wherever she appears. She is a dynamite actress with a powerhouse vocal instrument and easily creates a dynamically riveting performance. Brava!
Another word or two about pianist Abdul Hamid. He opened the show with "Don't Get Around Much Anymore" and after the Kitt set, as Randall went off stage to change her appearance, he essayed a magnificent "Someone to Watch Over Me" and "The Nearness of You". Watching him perform and listneing to his range from big and full out down to almost a whisper is like taking a master class in great vocal styling. This man really cooks!
(photo credit: Rich Kappler)
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Let me add that Feinstein's at Vitello's has a fabulous dinner menu. Their food is scrumptious and the waiter/waitress staff are friendly and efficient. Our waiter Jordan was very attentive and made the whole experience memorable.