LIFESONGS 1990" was an affirmation of life, a re-dedication to the fight against AIDS and a celebration of the victory of style over adversity.
And really, who has more style on this planet than George Burns and Eartha Kitt?
Both charmed a sold-out audience at Meyerhoff Hall last night, which was decked out for the third-annual "Lifesongs" benefit for the Health Education Resource Organization, or HERO.
Burns, 94, puffed on a cigar, rasped through his standard tunes, and delivered a stand-up (and part sit-down) routine with a razor-sharp sense of timing and stylish self- deprecation that a comedian half (or perhaps a fifth) his age would envy.
"It's nice to be here," he opened. "But then, it's nice to be anywhere.
"The last time I was in Baltimore was at the Hippodrome on Eutaw Street," he said, flashing his mega-byte memory. "That was 1927. They must have liked me, because here I am back, 63 years later."
Kitt, like Burns, is a trouper who has weathered all that life can deal with consummate style. At 62, she oozes sexuality and a cat-like lithe grace. Her microphone malfunctioned at the worst possible moment -- the beginning of her first number on stage -- but she held up her hand, silenced the band, and ad libbed: "I think Jimmy James put a hex on this microphone," she said, referring to the gifted female impersonator who had just wowed the audience with impressions that included none other than Kitt herself.
A new mike in hand, Kitt launched into a medium-sized set of her own classics, including the Sondheim hit from "Follies" that seems to sum up her rocky life, "I'm Still Here."
Between "Old Fashioned Girl," "C'est Si Bon," and "I Want to Be Evil," Kit purred her famous Cat Woman growl (she guested in the "Batman" TV series of the '60s), spoke in three languages, did the Charleston, and propositioned a hunk waiter who served her champagne.
"How old are you," she crooned. Twenty-two was the answer. "How'd you like to be 62 before the night is over?"
If Burns and Kitt were predictably delightful, perhaps it was only the cognoscenti who were prepared for the brash talent of James, who slinked through a set as a sexy Marilyn Monroe. James paid a visit to the audience and had them howling with a few Marilyn-style double entendres for which to truly appreciate you probably had to be there.
Monroe is James' calling card, but after shedding his sprayed-on sequin dress and platinum wig, James stunned everyone with uncanny vocal impersonations of Cher, Bette Davis, and a High Camp tour de force: the Barbra Streisand and Neal Diamond duet "You Don't Bring Me Flowers."