Eartha Kitt sidles to her spot in front of the Steinway, staring down her audience and challenging them to “champagne me” and “caviar me.” The star duly proceeds through the songs, the growls and kittenish purrs that have long made up her act. But at the Carlyle, Kitt is also endearing and very funny. Showmanship is on display, and it’s quite a display.
The singer has undergone a rocky spell. Her April booking was postponed due to a diagnosis of colon cancer. Two months after surgery, she’s back, singing up a storm as always. At the performance attended, she was wrestling with a Kleenex box, but no matter. Kitt is ageless, and her perf is rock-solid. Watch her play the crowd, coiffed in an artfully tousled bouffant and draped in forest-green velour cut way up to here and clasped — barely — with four diamond-like cubes.
Kitt is not a singer, in truth; she is a personality, inhabiting cannily selected material with her voice, body, legs and all available attributes. Her eyelashes work overtime; they seem to be battery-operated, with fresh batteries for each show. These eyes don’t sing; they speak a thousand words, and milk a dozen laughs. Kitt uses them with precision, to maximum effect.
She also engages in witty banter that gives every indication of being unscripted. When she can’t think of anything more, she just bats those eyes. At one point she turned to the band and asked, “What song am I singing?”
Those songs are mostly familiar to Kitt fans, with high spots including “Ain’t Misbehavin’,” “La Vie en rose,” “Darling, je vous aime beaucoup” (saluting Nat King Cole) and — naturally — “C’est si bon.” “Je cherche un millionaire avec une grande Cadillac car” still gets a laugh.
Kitt is impressively backed by longtime musical director Daryl Waters and three sidemen; percussionist Tony Cintron does especially fine work on Cole Porter’s “What Is This Thing Called Love?”
“I’ve got my love to keep me warm,” Kitt sings to an upbeat Berlin melody, but this performer is not warm in the least. Eartha — a half-year away from her 80th birthday — is afire and making a grand spectacle of herself.