Eartha Kitt: interview

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There‘s nothing like the real deal when it comes to cabaret. Time Out talks to Eartha Kitt as she prepares to perform in the capital next week

  • Eartha Kitt: interview

    Feisty feline: Kitt's still bending over backwards to entertain at 81

  • The postmodern cabaret revival has seen dressed-up people make for London’s venues of old, pretending that, in the outside world, indie bands aren’t bothering the charts, Kate Moss isn’t the young people’s role model of choice and, well, skinny jeans aren’t in.

    Rewind 50 years. Men dress in tuxedos and women in silky dresses and movie-star make-up. When it comes to cabaret, people go to see Judy Garland singing at the Hippodrome’s Talk of the Town, or Edith Piaf at the Paris Olympia. This week in London, there’s a chance to truly step back in time when Eartha Kitt plays the Pigalle.

    Kitt is the sultry voice behind ‘Santa Baby’, ‘I Want To Be Evil’ and ‘Just An Old Fashioned Girl’. From an impoverished background, she was ‘discovered’ by Orson Welles as a young dancer. She is famous for playing Catwoman in the 1960s television series ‘Batman’, but only appeared in a few episodes. Kitt has won countless awards for her theatre and cabaret work. She refused to perform to segregated audiences, was rejected by mainstream America after she spoke out against the Vietnam War and Janet Jackson is desperate to play her in a movie. Still going strong, Kitt is about to do three dates at the Pigalle Club, and one at the Cheltenham Jazz Festival. She turned 81 in January.

    With a ferocious reputation for being a diva, several journalists warn that she’s a nightmare to interview. Steeled, I call her in New York. She – not her PR, not her manager – answers the phone. I am immediately disappointed that she’s actually really lovely. It’s a quiet line, but she’s endlessly patient and doesn’t mind me going off on a tangent.

    I tell her that people cried when she played London in February last year, her first date here in 15 years. She responds by talking about the connection with her fans – ‘Do I know that people in the audience are crying? I know we touched each other, we felt each other.’ She memorably broke down and couldn’t perform. Someone cried out ‘We love you, Eartha’, she picked up, perked up, and gave a staggering show. Sounds a bit corny, a bit set up. But that’s cabaret.

    She disagrees. ‘There’s no cabaret around the world that I know of. It’s all gone the way of business, too much business, therefore the soul of the business has gotten really very lost. Greed is so destructive. It destroys everything.’

    There was a precise moment, says Kitt, when it all stopped being about the performing and started being about great sums of money. Some new acts broke onto the scene and… well, it was no longer about the love of live music as it was about earning shedloads of dosh. And who were those acts? Elvis Presley and The Beatles. ‘But it wasn’t them,’ she adds. ‘It was the people around them.’

    ‘I am the last of the Mohicans, the crème de la crème of cabaret. As long as I’m in front of an audience, it doesn’t matter whether it’s the theatre or cabaret. I love it.’ This isn’t postmodern irony and this isn’t dress-ups. This is the real deal.

    Eartha Kitt plays the Pigalle Club on Apr 23-25, and the Cheltenham Jazz Festival on Apr 29. www.vmpg.net/pigalle

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1 comments
Ivan
Ivan

I saw Eartha last February in London - Shaw Theater. It was like wildest dreams came true and to have a chance to have photo with her made it best day of my life. Unfortunately I'm not able to come to London this year again because it takes lots of money to fly from Croatia and stay in London but to anybody who have chance to see the show - go for it - there is no other performer as Eartha and you have chance to see how it was when stage show was not all about making more money but about great personality and talent. Eartha Kitt is one of just few larger then life performers ...