the loud bassoon concert scene

Eartha Kitt @ Yvette Wintergarden, Chicago, USA
10 April 1999

What better way to ring in another fucking birthday than to see Eartha Kitt in action? That's exactly what I did on my recent birthday, bucking my traditional sit-home-and-take-notice-of-how-many-people-forget-my-birthday festivities.

I'm not a birthday person, that's for sure. But this year I was determined to paint the town, and when I found out that the one and only "Down to" Eartha Kitt would be appearing that night, I was all over it like ham glaze on Dom DeLuise's face.

Eartha was appearing at a tiny cabaret-style nightclub called Yvette Wintergarden, situated somewhat awkwardly in the lowest floor of an office building near Union Station, and the tix were pricey ($40 for seats at the bar; we passed on the $90 dinner package) … clearly this was a sophisticated type of event.

Of course I made a point to show up in jeans, running shoes, and a hooded sweatshirt, causing several building employees some consternation, but it was my birthday, and I could have worn my freaking birthday suit if I wanted!

Hell, I could have lubed myself up in ham glaze and dived straight into Dom DeLuise's face if I wanted; it was my birthday.

I'd seen Eartha once before, a couple years back in a one-woman show tribute to Billie Holiday, and she was amazing. It's difficult to encapsulate the enduring appeal of Eartha Kitt, who embodies so many levels of camp, class, and charisma that it's tough to separate what you're laughing with, laughing at, or simply enjoying at face value.

Her highly unique voice is instantly recognizable (she was the most hilarious Catwoman, remember) and her stature as an icon is as strong now as it was in the 50s.

So is the voice. The show at Yvette's was a straight-ahead cabaret show about which my only complaint is that the sound was not ideal, the acoustics surrounding the stage swallowing up most of the sound so that the room itself received a slightly drowned-out version of what those closer-up were hearing.

Still, it was pretty amazing to be in a tiny room sitting about 30 feet away from Eartha Kitt. She was accompanied by a trio (Daryl Waters, piano; John Burke, bass; Bob Shank, drums) and tore through a set of I've-lived-and-learned-and-lost-and-found-myself personal epics with maximum charm and much riotous ad-libbing.

There were a number of songs I didn't recognize due to the estimated five thousand languages she speaks and sings in (I think one may have been in Huttese, looking back on it), but most of the classics were represented: "I'm Still Here" opened the set, and other recognizable hits included "Mein Herr" from "Cabaret," "How Could You Believe Me When I Said That I Loved You (When You Know I've Been a Liar All My Life)," "I Will Survive" (not as jaw-droppingly weird nor as lift-'em-up inspirational as you might think), and of course, "C'est Si Bon."

The set closer we a medley of "It Was a Very Good Year" and "Here's to Life" that sent the crowd into a spontaneous standing ovation (the straight people were noticeably slower to respond).

In between all this was much debauchery, trademark purring, and playful humor relating to Eartha's age (72) and still-hot sexiness. One bit even dragged a nervous 27-year-old waiter on stage to be subject to a very long flirtation from Miss Kitt, amid much champagne-cork-popping and general salaciousness. It was quite a time.

The crowd was a blend of old people and gay people, sometimes in the same seat, and I think I was the only poor straight person there. But sometimes you have to treat yourself, especially on your birthday, so you don't notice the years passing quickly as if to mock the stagnation in which you swim.

I want to be like Eartha Kitt and live my life to its fullest extent! Eh, I'll start tomorrow. Or the day after that. Who says you have to emulate your idols? I hardly pursued anorexia just because I'm a huge Tracey Gold fan. Well, at any rate I didn't pursue it that much.

Review by Chang King