As a ticket-taker at the Universal Amphitheater in Hollywood in the mid-'70s, actress, producer and singer Rita Wilson found musical inspiration in good supply, including one memorable evening that paired a bright moon above with Joni Mitchell below. The impetus to sing onstage herself came when she was cast as Roxie Hart in the musical "Chicago" in 2006. “When I did that,” she recalls, “I literally made a vow to myself that I was going to have music in my life for the rest of my life.”
Wilson’s next tenure at the microphone begins Sept. 24 at the famed Cafe Carlyle inside the Carlyle Hotel. For two weeks, she performs hour-plus shows five days a week with material drawn from her first album "AM/FM," a collection of covers and her upcoming project of original material, written in part with Richard Marx, Kara DioGuardi and Jason Reeves. Backing her is a four-piece band led by guitarist Andrew Doolittle.
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As with any show at Cafe Carlyle, the room itself becomes an additional member of the band. Famed for its musical wall murals by Academy Award-winning costume designer Marcel Vertes, the space boasts a unique intimacy and richness, much of which also drawn from the Carlyle’s decades-long résumé of legendary performers like Bobby Short, Eartha Kitt and Rita Moreno.
For Wilson, the closeness of the room also cultivates a special relationship with the audience that’s both thrilling and terrifying. “When you are performing on your own, you have a much more direct connection.” A large part of the thrill this time comes from performing her new songs. “One I look forward to singing is called ‘Along for the Ride,’ and that’s just a really fun, up-tempo ‘let’s go out and party’ song," she says.
Also joining the party this season at the Carlyle are Jeff Goldblum and his jazz band, Molly Ringwald, David “Buster Poindexter” Johansen, Steve Tyrell and husband-and-wife duo John Pizzarelli and Jessica Molaskey. Woody Allen also continues to perform Monday nights with the Eddy Davis New Orleans Jazz Band. “I think it’s really great that the Carlyle is branching out and doing less traditional cabaret,” Wilson says.
Whether any of Wilson’s famous friends (or husband Tom Hanks) plan to join her onstage remains to be seen. “It’s possible,” she laughs. "You never know with my crazy friends!”
If you go: Rita Wilson at Cafe Carlyle
Sept. 24-Oct. 4
35 E. 76th St.
Tickets start at $50
Also coming up at Cafe Carlyle
Sept. 16-20: Jeff Goldblum and Mildred Snitzer Orchestra
Oct. 7-18: Molly Ringwald
Oct. 21-25: David Johansen
Oct. 28-Nov. 22: John Pizzarelli and Jessica Molaskey
Nov. 25-Dec. 31: Steve Tyrell