Monday, August 07, 2006

An American Icon: Kitty Carlisle Hart (The SOB Review) - El Portal Theatre, North Hollywood, CA

An American Icon: Kitty Carlisle Hart (The SOB Review) - El Portal Theatre, North Hollywood, CA

***1/2 (out of ****)

As a student of history, I’ve cherished unique opportunities over the last several years to see living theatrical legends take to the stage to tell the story of Broadway from their distinct vantage points. I was struck with emotion by the naked honesty as told through the Tony-winning Elaine Stritch At Liberty. I laughed at the bawdy, yet disjointed recollections shared by Carol Channing. And I was mesmerized by the historic dancing and timeless beauty provided by Chita Rivera: The Dancer’s Life.

But Saturday, I was thrilled to be able to sit in the presence of the doyenne of Broadway society for most of the 20th Century: Kitty Carlisle Hart, an astonishing film, stage and television figure whom I’ve admired from the days of her long stint as a panelist on TV’s “To Tell the Truth” during my childhood. In the sold-out An American Icon, the nearly 96 years young Mrs. Moss Hart remains sharp as tack, graceful as American theatrical royalty and the epitome of class and sophistication. There she stood, poised on the stage of North Hollywood’s El Portal Theatre for more than one hour, regaling the enthusiastic audience with an erudite cross-section of her illustrious, captivating life.

While she was introduced with a montage of video clips primarily culled from “To Tell the Truth,” she thankfully devoted her performance to vivid recollections of her friendship with a veritable “Who’s Who” of the Great White Way’s Golden Age: Jerome Kern, George Gershwin, Cole Porter, Kurt Weill, Richard Rodgers and Oscar Hammerstein II, Alan Jay Lerner and Frederick Lowe, and of course, the great playwright and director whom she’d marry in 1946 until his death in 1961, Moss Hart -- and each fascinating vignette included a song or two.

Her personal anecdotes also covered her time in Hollywood, including with the Marx Brothers (she had a starring role as opera star Rosa Castaldi in their classic movie from 1935 “A Night at the Opera”). She elicited one her biggest laughs when she referred to legendary Broadway director George Abbott who lived to be 107 -- “I no longer think that’s very old,” she said.

Although the passage of time can make it difficult for those of advanced age to sing, she wowed the audience with her determination to reach for the high notes. Perhaps most touching was Mrs. Hart’s rendition of the Kurt Weill/Maxwell Anderson classic “September Song.” One couldn’t help but wish she was merely in the September of her life. But true to her classy form, she’s not going to let the years rob her of further opportunities to entertain -- this incredible national treasure announced that she's already slated to be back at Feinstein’s at the Regency next month to officially mark her 96th birthday, which falls on September 3.

Kitty Carlisle Hart's descriptions of her personal relationships with the legends who made Broadway such a powerful medium are testament to the amazing life she herself has led. I was honored to have the opportunity to bask in her continued glow -- I feel all the richer for the experience.

This is Steve On Broadway (SOB).

Related Stories:
Will It Play in Peoria? How About Iowa? (July 24, 2006)
American Theatre Icon Kitty Carlisle Hart to Perform in North Hollywood (June 26, 2006)

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