- The Washington Times - Friday, November 10, 2006

Like some nonagenarian Energizer bunny, 96-year-old Kitty Carlisle Hart just keeps on going. The veteran star of stage and TV makes a bold appeal to live audiences during her sing-and-tell road show, telling them “we want more gigs.”

The “we” in this instance is faithful musical director David Lewis, many years her junior, who has helped present Mrs. Hart’s wholly autobiographical history of the American musical in clubs and hotels around the country.

Called, appropriately enough, “I Walk With Music,” the program has a song list guaranteed to bring tears of both joy and sadness to anyone smitten with this particular art form.

Kitty she may be, but catty she is not. She has instead found a charming way to make use of the insider showbiz knowledge she has acquired throughout a lifetime of performing with the best.

She does so by creating an entertainment piece built around famous personalities of her acquaintance and the anecdotes they inspired. Because she really did live the life — as a performer in her own right and the wife of the late Moss Hart, Broadway playwright and director of renown — she packs a double whammy.

After all, George Gershwin was among her swains. Where she could be even just a little bit nasty, she is nice but not cloying. Her mission is love — and appreciation for the talent that made possible the words and music she celebrates.

Some of her most enthusiastic audiences have been at Feinstein’s at the Regency — pianist and song stylist Michael Feinstein’s venue in the Hotel Regency on New York’s Park Avenue, where she has appeared four times, often in sold-out performances.

Mr. Feinstein, 50, is unabashedly one of her biggest fans. He is doing a documentary of her life that follows from a profile he authored for the December issue of Vanity Fair.

It’s her “connection to theater history,” he says of his position as something of her protege. “She is a link to a past we all wish we could have been part of. She knew Cole Porter, Richard Rodgers, Leonard Bernstein, Irving Berlin and so on — all the greats.”

Mr. Feinstein notes that Mrs. Hart hails Jerome Kern of “Smoke Gets in Your Eyes” fame as the father of the modern American musical, and he adds that if so, “there are many mothers, all legitimate.”

“You see what you can do if you pay attention,” Mrs. Hart says, intentionally calling attention to herself and her birthday as she takes her place standing tall before the microphone in a sparkling pink gown, nails manicured and tinted to perfection.

The program begins with Stephen Sondheim’s “Old Friends” and ends with a little-known tune by Hoagy Carmichael and Johnny Mercer, “I Walk With Music.” Between are two Cole Porter songs, two by Alan Jay Lerner and Frederick Loewe, and even Kurt Weill with Maxwell Anderson. A total of 16 in one hour, most of them songs by friends who used to accompany Mrs. Hart at parties.

The actress and singer also was a panelist for 15 years on television’s “To Tell the Truth,” although today, the truth in her telling is an amusing anecdote about the Marx Brothers (she starred in their classic “A Night at the Opera”) or how Cole Porter “was the first person to put psychoanalysis onstage” and her belief that “the theater breaks down prejudice almost more than anything.”

She likes throwing out anecdotes: George Gershwin’s “Of Thee I Sing,” for example, was the first musical to get a Pulitzer. Another is that it was she who introduced “I Walk With Music” on Broadway in 1940.

Her civic side is nearly as historic, as she was chairman of the New York State Council on the Arts for 20 years, from 1976 to 1996. Not surprisingly, she wrote an introduction to the Smithsonian Institution Press book “Red, Hot and Blue: A Smithsonian Salute to the American Musical” for a 1996 exhibit of that title curated by historians Amy Henderson and Dwight Bower.

“At this stage, I never thought I would learn a new song,” she notes by way of introducing a zesty song titled “Here’s to Life.” It is a sort of personal mantra for the woman who, reportedly, practices yoga daily and can still touch her toes.

She will be on the road again Nov. 16 through 19 in Atlanta and Dec. 30 and 31 in Portland, Ore., in a 4,000 seat hall that already is sold out.

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