Eartha Kitt, the sultry, sinewy diva who blends naughtiness with an appealing grandeur, has returned to the Cafe Carlyle with a trenchant parcel of simmering ballads.
At 78, Kitt still possesses the purring seductiveness that won her plaudits on Broadway in “New Faces of 1952” and as Batman’s TV nemesis Catwoman. Her voice boasts a big and sure enveloping warmth; her world-weary sense of glamour frames each song with classic elegance.
Kitt’s expansive and richly tailored repertoire runs the gamut from “Come on-a My House” — sung in rapid, tongue-twisting Japanese — to a plaintive tribute to the immortal “little sparrow,” Edith Piaf. With “La Vie en Rose,” sung in French, and “Hymn to Love,” Kitt summons a timeless sense of Continental allure.
She enjoys wooing the gentlemen at ringside tables, even coming to a dead stop during a chorus of “I Can’t Give You Anything but Love.” After a long silent stare, she offers a flirtatious command, “Don’t just sit there. Do something,” but warns, “I’m not cheap!” The audience is wildly receptive to her ribald sense of humor.
Some of the trademark Kitt novelties still define her saucy songbook, including “I Want to Be Evil,” “C’est si bon” and a fleeting bit of the tantalizing Turkish tale “Uska Dara.”
In a bit of musical film history, Kitt performs “How Could You Believe Me When I Said I Love You (When You Know I’ve Been a Liar All My Life?),” the Alan Jay Lerner/Burton Lane tune from “Royal Wedding,” which makes a fitting revelation and fanciful confessional for Kitt’s delightfully wicked image.
However, the divine chanteuse isn’t all evil. She becomes a genuinely warm and persuasively prophetic storyteller with Johnny Mercer’s “When the World Was Young” and Ervin Drake’s reflective “It Was a Very Good Year.”
Musical director Daryl Waters, Kitt’s longtime accompanist. paces the hour with a keen sense of rhythm and timing. He can vamp comfortably while Kitt toys with the male patrons.