by: Alix Cohen
The title is a Spoonerism: a humorous mistake in which a speaker switches the first sounds of two or more words= Twin Sisters.
There’s something to be said for fine vintage. When Anita Gillette and Penny Fuller open with a spirited medley of “Friends” and “Little Me,” they are in full, seemingly effortless command of the stage. In a show based on genial rivalry and deep regard, the artists exhibit not a bit of accumulated dust. They’re charming, piquant, and vivacious. As Gillette exercises her breathy baritone in “Sistah,” we know tongues are planted firmly in tandem cheeks. This is a delightful evening. Catch the next show, exercise your smile muscles!
The duel premise of Sin Twisters is similar career paths and apparently being mistaken for one another. Gillette came to the city a classically trained singer with acting aspirations. Fuller arrived, at about the same time, a classically trained actress with ambitions to sing. Both wound up in the chorus. We’re given a glimpse of their auditions: Gillette offers a gossamer of “Baubles, Bangles and Beads” then, with palpable innocence, acts out the embarrassment of a ripped skirt unwittingly revealed during her up-tempo number. Fuller, asked to sing while in the line of South Pacific, delivers an exuberant “Wonderful Guy,” which then won her the role of understudy.
“Happiness is Just a Thing Called Joe” prefaces an overlong salute to Joe Papp who opened doors for both performers. Herein the competition begins. Who did what for whom, was friends with which famous talent, got there first. Most of this is achieved by the excellent comic timing of tone and expression. While Gillette was squired to lunch by Yip Harburg, Fuller, chancing upon Harold Arlen in a summer auditorium, boasts she had a song spontaneously written for her by the master:The temperature becomes you, Penny, she sings. That was it. They both dated Cy Coleman.
There are solo turns of every color. Gillette’s hysterical “If I Were a Bell,” demonstrating her youthful interpretation of an outrageously drunk Sergeant Sarah Brown (Guys and Dolls) is countered by beautiful renditions of “Once Upon a Time” and “Isn’t He Something,” a rarely heard Stephen Sondheim song. The actress is captivatingly in the moment; we’re with her all the way. She doesn’t just sing of memories, she shares them.
Fuller begins a nifty arrangement of Irving Berlin’s “Pack Up Your Sins and Go To the Devil” by reading text messages on her iphone ostensibly sent from down below. Her brio sets an attitude into which both women plunge with crisp, counterpoint melodies. The duet is winning. Fuller’s version of “One More Spring” (Barry Kleinbort) is an evocative, bittersweet bouquet of impressions: One more Spring spent with you/One more stroll where we two/ Enjoy silence only couples understand…
The ladies regale us with Cliff Notes of ample, ongoing careers. Gillette enacts the British wardrobe mistress from her London debut as Pocahontas,replete with overbite and urbane anecdote, while Fuller represents Lotte Lenya like an audible Hirschfeld. A medley from Cabaret, in which they both played Sally Bowles, is fun but also overlong. Fuller shines in a rousing, unrepentant interpretation of the title song. Very different in bearing, approach to an audience, and what each reveals, the two multitalented thespians balance each other well.
Patter is conversational, harmony flows, the entire room glows with warmth.
“When you take into account where we’ve been, how we’ve grown, and who we’ve done…” Gillette muses with a twinkle in her eye…
Sin Twisters – Anita Gillette & Penny Fuller
Director: Barry Kleinbort Musical Director: Paul Greenwood Bass: Steve Doyle
254 West 54th St.
ONE MORE SHOW OCTOBER 9
Venue Calendar: http://54below.com/october/
*Photos: Maryann Lopinto