Several weeks ago I posted Eartha Kitt’s entrance to end all entrances in Timbuktu!, and have been led to this video of Kitt performing the second act number “Rahadlakum.” Stopping midsong, Kitt delivers the most tantalizing monologue about how to make the concoction. Kitt, to the accompaniment of the percussion section mesmerizes the entire audience with her recipe turning every ingredient and instruction into a double entendre. The song in Kismet was also a suggestive showstopper, only it was a duet assisted by the chorus. In Timbuktu, the song becomes a solo for Kitt, cutting most of the actual song but extending the performance by several minutes with her new monologue and stopping the show in the process.
I did a little searching around about “radhadlakum.” It is apparently a bastardization of the Turkish term “rahat loukoum,” whose literal translation is “rest for the throat” but is more commonly known as Turkish delight. After this you may never be able to look at your spice rack the same way again… Enjoy:
Which might be one of the grossest understatements I’ve ever made. In 1978, the late, great Eartha Kitt made a comeback on Broadway in Geoffrey Holder’s revision of Kismet retitled Timbuktu! The new musical adapted the book and score of the original, transporting the setting from Baghdad to the eponymous African oasis. Kitt took on the role of Shaleem-La-Lume, originated in the earlier musical by dramatic soprano sexpot Joan Diener, and was given a brand new song (since “Not Since Nineveh” is topical to Baghdad) called “In the Beginning, Woman.” In the new song, she sensuously dispels the Biblical myth of whom God created first. The revision played the Mark Hellinger Theatre for 221 performances in 1978, costarring Melba Moore and Gilbert Price, before going out on national tour. Unfortunately, no cast album was produced. Though playing a supporting role, Kitt took top billing and walked away with the show and a Tony nomination for Lead Actress in a Musical. She got a star entrance so opulent and grand, it brought down the house every night. And now here it is, enjoy:
The Wild Party (the one by LaChiusa) played only 68 performances on Broadway. However, it featured a stellar cast led by Toni Collette and Mandy Patinkin. Eartha Kitt created her final original role in a Broadway musical in her Tony nominated turn as Dolores. Here is her performance of “Moving Uptown” from an appearance on Rosie. She still had it right to the end.
Kitt McDonald Shapiro on her mother, the late, great Eartha Kitt from a 2005 piece for the CBS Sunday Morning show:
“The one thing I always knew about my mother was that she always loved me,” said Kitt Shapiro. “And I give her tremendous credit for being able to, throughout our lives, let me know that she always loved me, and that was always unconditional.”
It was pure instinct, said Shapiro, that guided her mother.
“She had accomplished so much on her own with no family and nobody there guide her. There’s something there. Her name, Eartha, is her given name, and she is of the earth, and she is so much of the earth. She has that richness, and she’s sturdy, she’s firm. Her name is perfect for her.”
In a somber contrast to the joyous day we are having, it saddens me to report that the legend that is Eartha Kitt has passed away today at the age of 81 after a substantial battle with colon cancer. A legend of film, theatre and television, she was a multi-talented performer whose distinctive purr of a voice became her trademark. She became famous for her recordings of “C’est Ce Bon” and “Love for Sale,” as well as her most famous single which we’ve been hearing a lot these past weeks, “Santa Baby.” Orson Welles once called her “the most exciting woman alive.” She stirred up considerable controversy in 1968 when she famously brought Lady Bird Johnson to tears when she spoke out against the war in Vietnam during a White House luncheon. She would be scorned by the Johnson administration and was professionally blacklisted in the United States for years. Kitt was featured on Broadway in New Faces of ’52 (in which she sang the sultry showstopper “Monotonous”), Mrs. Patterson, Shinbone Alley opposite Eddie Bracken. After twenty years away, she returned to the Great White Way in the all-black revisal of Kismet entitled Timbuktu! Kitt’s diva entrance involved her being carried on like the African princess she was portraying by two muscular men in the chorus. Eartha brought down the house nightly by stepping down from her chaise, downstage center, and announcing her first line: “I’m here.” Then she launched into a brand new song written especially for her called “In the Beginning, Woman” (which replaced the contextually irrelevant “Not Since Nineveh,” which was geographically linked to Baghdad, the setting of Kismet). She later returned in La Chiusa’s The Wild Party (a second Tony nom)and as Chita Rivera’s replacement in the revival of Nine. She also famously brought down the house in London when she succeeded Dolores Gray as Carlotta in the 1987 production of Follies. She is probably best known on television for her portrayal as Catwoman on the campy 60s series Batman (a role also played by Julie Newmar and Lee Meriwether) More recently, she made a lot of new, considerably younger fans in her riotous voiceover work as the villainous Izma in the Disney animated feature The Emperor’s New Groove as well its subsequent TV series (for which she would win two Daytime Emmys). Professional that she was, she could be seen in NY among many first night crowds and gala events throughout her illness, as well as appearing in cabaret at the Cafe Carlyle in September 2007 and at La Pigalle in London in April 2008. Kitt is survived by her daughter Kitt McDonald Shapiro and four grandchildren.
Here is the legend performing “I’m Still Here” on the Olivier Awards during her run in Follies: