by: Joe Regan, Jr.
At 54 Below in New York City underneath the Roundabout‘s Studio 54 theatre where another revival of the classic musical “Cabaret” is previewing, actresses Anita Gillette and Penny Fuller, both of whom played Sally Bowles in the original 1966 production, are repeating their smash musical comedy act entitled “Sin Twisters,” a spooner on twin sisters. Early on in the show, superbly directed by Barry Kleinbort, and aided by master pianist/ music director Paul Greenwood and super bass player Steve Doyle, Gillette and Fuller give us a definition of the word “Spooner” which was the name of a minister who was afflicted with that speech mistake and both of them spooner their own names! And throughout the act they fell back on that speech habit to the hilarity of the sold out audience.
They make fun of their ages, stating that the room should be called “54 and above.” The two of them have many similarities in their careers. Although Fuller was an actress who had specialized in Shakespearean heroines regionally, she went to an open call for a revival of “South Pacific” at New York City Center and sang “Wonderful Guy” ending up in the chorus and understudying Nellie Forbush. Gillette’s open call audition, which included “I’m Just Wild About Harry,” unwittingly exposed her tight skirt’s major split when she turned around.
Fuller’s audition ballad was “Happiness is Just a Thing Called Joe” and both revealed their personal experiences with Harold Arlen and Yip Harburg. They exchanged real life incidents with Jule Styne, Cy Coleman, Arlen and Harburg. Gillette told of being cast in Frank Loesser’s “Guys and Dolls” and modeling her Sarah on a drunken Salvation Army lady she knew in Baltimore. Loesser came to her dressing room after the first performance and told her he had never seen anyone play Sister Sarah as she did. Gillette then did a hysterical full version of “If I Were A Bell,” getting drunker and drunker and crazily interacting with the musicians. She followed that up immediately by singing “Once Upon A Time” from “All American” and Fuller sang the second chorus of the lyrics. The blending of their voices at the end of this song was a thing of beauty.
They talked and showed photographs of their children in their early years. Fuller lovingly sang “When I Look In Your Eyes” staring at her daughter’s photograph. Gillette’s contribution to her sons was “Isn’t He Something.”
Gillette told a hysterically funny story about making her London debut in a musical about “Pocahontas” and how the wardrobe mistress decided to cover her in a body stocking with tattoos everywhere. She sang the ridiculous song she had in the show and was the only positive thing the critics mentioned about the musical. Fuller recreated her big number “I’m Alive” from “Applause.”
But the centerpiece of the act is the two of them singing songs from the original production of “Cabaret” and talking about working with Jack Gilford and Lotte Lenya. Both took on Lenya’s accent on the pineapple song, then sang “Married,” “Two Ladies” with Greenwood doing the Joel Grey parts, “”Don’t Tell Mama,” and ultimately the title song, “Cabaret.” The audience cheered and stood when they introduced John Kander, the composer, in the audience.
The fake encore was Cole Porter’s “You’re The Top” with special contemporary lyrics by Kleinbort! punched out by both ladies whose age and stage experience are a glorious thing to see and hear. Coincidentally, Gillette won the MAC Celebrity Artist Award the other night!
Photos: Maryann Lopinto
“Sin Twisters” repeats Tuesday, April 1 at 7 PM at 54 Below. Reservations are strongly recommended.
54 Below – 254 W 54th St, Cellar – New York, NY 10019