*Down To Eartha,* Feb 25, 2022
Richard and I saw *Down To Eartha* on Feb 25, 2022 at the Gene Frankel Theatre. It's a one-woman show about Eartha Kitt, written by and starring Dierdra McDowell. This show was clearly engineered with me in mind, I'm a huge fan of Miss Kitt from way back and was lucky enough to have seen her perform four or five times. I even had a mind-blowing interaction with her backstage at one of her performances.
Here's a description of the show from their website: "In 1968 while at the height of her career as a world renowned entertainer, Eartha Kitt was also working as one of the main lobbyists for a group of young activists called the Rebels With A Cause. During this time, Miss Kitt was then invited to the White House by Lady Bird Johnson to partake in a women's luncheon to discuss the issue of the rising crime rates in America. At the luncheon however, when Eartha stood up and expressed her views, stating that the increase in crime was mostly due to Americas involvement in the Vietnam War, Lady Bird Johnson was personally insulted by the comment and shortly after, by order of President Lyndon Johnson, Eartha Kitt was blacklisted from work in the United States for the following 10 years!"
The show opened with a film of McDowell performing Kitt's first famous number, "Monotonous." Here she is:
Then she did "Uska Dara" with some wonderfully precise head movements. Later in the show she did "Santa Baby" with new lyrics about the White House kerfuffle, now called "Mr. Johnson." She ended the show with one of Kitt's signature numbers, "C'est si bon," which she did as Miss Kitt would have done it, taunting the men in the audience, toying with them as a cat plays with its prey. This has always made me uneasy, which might be the point.
McDowell was wonderful in her performance, she caught the inflections and deportment of Kitt and did a creditable job bringing her to life. Best of all, she was an expressive and beguiling dancer. The problem with the show was the script. It didn't have much sense of direction, it felt like one thing after another and didn't seem to have a real ending. I didn't realize the show was over until the drummer came out to take his bow. I'd love to be able to tell you his name, he was one of the most impressive elements of the show, but we didn't have a program and he's not listed on the show's website. We enjoyed the show, we're glad we saw it, but it's not as good as it could be.
I think you're dying to hear about my interaction with Miss Kitt, am I right? It was 1996 and my beloved friend Scott and I went to Ravinia (a summer music festival outside of Chicago) to see Kitt do her club act. She was fantastic. The high point of the show was her performance of "I Will Survive," which I had seen her do at the Cafe Carlyle in NYC. I can do a stellar impersonation of Kitt doing that song.
Scott is a real stage door Johnny, he loves to get autographs and/or have some repartee with the artists. People were being brought down to her dressing room in pairs. We were preceded by two cute young gay boys and could overhear bits of their conversation.
GAY BOY: We saw you on the Today Show the other day. You were really hard on Bryant Gumbel.
EARTHA: I feel so bad for Bryant Gumbel.
Then it was our turn. We fawned on her, which she loved. I told her I'd seen her at the Carlyle, which she loved even more. She signed Scott's program. It was raining that night and I had a brainstorm.
ME: It's an odd request, but could I ask you to sign my umbrella?
EARTHA: You want me to sign your umbrella.
ME: Yes. But I know it's bad luck, I'll have to open it in order for you to sign it.
EARTHA: It's only bad luck if you BELIEVE it's bad luck.