3 Questions With BFFs Penny Fuller and Anita Gillette: Twin Sisters and Sin Twisters

The Tony Award nominees bring their duo-cabaret show to 54 Below this month.

You’d think it would be easy to tell Penny Fuller and Anita Gillette apart. However, they both claim otherwise — Fuller asserts that she’s frequently referred to as “Anita,” while Gillette says she’s constantly being called “Penny.” This might be hard to believe, given their illustrious careers on stage and screen, as well as the fact that Fuller, a two-time nominee for her work in Applause and The Dinner Party, is blonde, and Gillette, a Tony nominee for her performance in Chapter Two, is a redhead. And even though they were both Sally Bowles replacements in the original production of Cabaret, these ladies still not the same person.

The pair is hammering this point home in their new cabaret show, Sin Twisters, written with Barry Kleinbort, which makes its 54 Below debut on October 2 and 9. Following a recent press preview of the concert, TheaterMania sat down with the veteran performers to hash out which is which.

Penny Fuller and Anita Gillette on stage at 54 Below.
Penny Fuller and Anita Gillette on stage at 54 Below.
(© David Gordon)

Can you tell me about the origins of Sin Twisters?
Anita Gillette: We were on the floor at Len Cariou’s apartment. We had slid down the wall because it was a very crowded Christmas-type party. There were a lot of people. We really got to know each other for the first time in our careers only about five years ago. We were like passing ships in the night; we knew each other, we had sort of met, but we really hadn’t worked together.
Penny Fuller: She had gotten jobs I wanted, blah, blah.
Anita Gillette: And vice versa. We were at this party and we started talking and we just became glued to each other. We sat down on [the] floor and we started talking about how everyone always comes up to me, calls me Penny, and says how much they loved me in Applause. And she said, “Well, they come up to me and say ‘Anita!'” So we started comparing notes. We just hit it off.
Penny Fuller: It’s unusual to get a deep, profound friendship in such a short time. Usually, your best friends are people you’ve known for thirty years. But we are kind of like twin sisters — sin twisters — in a short amount of time.
Anita Gillette: Penny was at the O’Neill and she thought it would be a good idea if I came up. We put this thing together really fast called Sin Twisters. Barry Kleinbort, her colleague up there, wrote and put [it] together for us. And now we’ve improved upon it, with Barry, and we decided to do it.

Will you be wearing signs to distinguish who’s Anita and who’s Penny?
Anita Gillette: I thought of that. Penny didn’t want to do that. Rita and Chita did it once. I thought of that, because I’m coarse. [Penny] is so refined. I wish I could be that refined.
Penny Fuller: [groan]
Anita Gillette: What [the audience] is going to see is a history of where we’ve been —
Penny Fuller and Anita Gillette: Theatrically.
Anita Gillette: We were actually friends with Irving Berlin and Jule Styne and Arthur Schwartz
Penny Fuller: And Harold Arlen and Richard Rodgers.
Anita Gillette: People like that. That’s what we have to offer.

I take it you’re BFFs now?
Anita Gillette: We find, when we’re working together — it’s happened several times —where we’re trying to think of something and we both come up with the same phrase at exactly the same time. It’s very strange. You know how you hook fingers when you’ve said the same thing? That keeps happening.
Penny Fuller: I’m so grateful for here. I’m so grateful she’s in my life now. I have a really deep friendship with somebody new.