“Anyone for Liberace?” Allee Willis yells from the stage. “Ten dollars,” a voice from the audience answers. “Twenty,” someone in the crowd counters. “Twenty for Liberace? Very cheap for Liberace,” Willis banters back. A moment later, the highest bidder wins their very own Liberace album from Willis’ personal kitsch collection, handed off by none other than Mary Padian from “Storage Wars.”
If that sounds like something right out of a dream, it’s actually not too far off. In her presence, Willis has a way of drawing forth your wildest imagination - then coloring it with laughter and a hint of nostalgia. Her extraordinary personality is as large as the hard to miss oversized Star of David hanging around her neck. She's a Grammy, Emmy, and Tony award-winning and nominated songwriter, performer, artist, party-thrower and kitsch collector. In fact, if you were to look up the definition of “kitsch” in the dictionary, you’d see Allee Willis’ name. Literally; she was actually in the dictionary.
The name Allee Willis is also synonymous with some of the world’s most recognizable songs. She penned Earth, Wind & Fire’s “September" and “Boogie Wonderland,” The Pointer Sisters’ “Neutron Dance,” Patti LaBelle’s “Stir It Up,” the “Friends” theme “I’ll Be There for You,” "You're The Best" from "The Karate Kid" and is co-author of the Tony and Grammy-winning Broadway musical “The Color Purple.” While Willis doesn’t know how to read or play music, she has managed to sell over 60 million records in her career and has placed songs in several of Hollywood’s biggest blockbusters.
With the holiday season in full swing, Willis came bearing gifts during the three-night run of her “Love ’N Latkes Chanukah Christmas Shopping Extravaganza Show!” Nestled away in the upstairs room at Vitello’s in Studio City, the artist welcomed sold-out crowds to join her in the ultimate storytelling adventure. Her one-woman variety show included not only auctioning off items such as Liberace and Bea Arthur albums but invited audience sing-alongs, complete with the stories behind the songs.
Accompanied by pianist Andrae Alexander, the two took the crowd on a musical journey that enlightened the room on how some of their favorite hits came to be. As Willis shared personal tales, every mere mention of the word “friends” would trigger Alexander to erupt into playing “I’ll Be There for You.”
Willis talked about writing “Neutron Dance” in roughly 52 minutes and discussed what went into making “The D” with her collaborator, Andrae Alexander. The passion project about her hometown of Detroit took her five years to make, resulting in a record and video which featured over 5,000 people - the most in history ever to have been included on a record before.
The artist also recounted creating “September” with Earth, Wind & Fire, referring to it as “the gift that keeps on giving.” After some back-and-forth with Maurice White about replacing “Ba de ya” with “real words,” White won out, teaching Willis the valuable lesson: Never let the lyric get in the way of the groove.
Whether it was a story, a memory, or an item from the “Museum of Kitsch,” everyone walked away with something valuable from Allee Willis’ show. “Love ’N Latkes” was packed with eye-opening anecdotes, hilarious moments and touching tales, proving that Willis truly is the best around.
For more on the one and only Allee Willis, be sure to check out her website.