Folks who saw Anita Hollander’s portrayal of Grizabella in the just-closed Ocean Professional Theatre Company production of “Cats” know she is a fine actress and singer. They also may have noticed another thing about Hollander – she only has one leg.
Oh, some audience members were confused. They’re not accustomed to seeing one-legged performers, and wondered how the theater company had tucked her leg so successfully behind her. Hollander, though, did indeed lose a leg to cancer in 1977.
That didn’t slow Hollander down. She’s racked up quite the list of credits in a career that has now spanned almost 50 years. This writer joked with her when she said she was closing in on that milestone, saying age would catch up with her and she’d have to change the name of her one-woman show from “Still Standing” to “Still Standing With the Help of a Cane.” Hollander has a sense of humor – she laughed at that one.
For right now, though, her show is still called “Still Standing,” and she’ll be performing it at the Barnegat High School auditorium at 6 p.m. on Monday, Aug. 5.
“Still Standing,” for which she wrote the music and lyrics as well as the book, has reached a milestone itself. She first performed it, she said, in 1993.
Since then she’s repeated her performance almost uncountable times, both Off-Broadway and in venues such as the Alabama Shakespeare Festival, the Cleveland Playhouse, the Corcoran Gallery, the Kennedy Center for the Performing Arts and the White House. Her 2012 production at the United Solo Theatre Festival won its Audience Award.
“I’ve done it all over the country, in some crazy places such as social worker training centers and prisons,” she told The SandPaper. “It has gone through changes, mostly as the result of audience reactions.”
Somebody who saw the 15-song show 20 years ago would still recognize it, however.
“It remains timely,” Hollander said.
“Still Standing” is about her experiences but, she insisted, not about her. It is meant to be inspirational to people with disabilities and to show other people that something like losing a leg to cancer can knock you down but not out.
“With song, wit, understatement, great dollops of humor, but not a smidgen of self-pity,” wrote Roy Sorrels for New York’s Culture Vulture Review in 2001, “Hollander reaches out to every member of the audience. How many, after all, will share her one-legged condition?
“But the strength of her material, and the power of her performance, is that it reaches out to the disability, the handicap, the wound that everyone who has made it to adulthood and is somehow learning to cope with.
“She faces head on the fact of her loss. All the other facts of existence still face her – she is essentially alone and must seek love, and she gets extra credit in the puzzle of figuring out what it all means. She talks about all of it so clearly, jokes about it so unselfconsciously, but especially sings about it with a stunning vocal instrument that swoops from show-stopping strength to lyric sweetness to husky, musky sexiness.”
John S. Wilson of The New York Times agreed, calling her “provocative, funny, communicative and beautifully polished,” adding that “she has a wide range of vocal colors which she uses with dramatic sensibility as well as comic insight. … All this plus a charming presence that flavors everything she does.”
Hollander is, without a doubt, an upbeat woman. She can get angry, however, especially in her role of national chair of the Tri-Unions (she’s a member of the Actors Equity Association – for stage performers, the Screen Actors Guild and AFTRA, the American Federation of Television and Radio Artists – of which she is a board member) Performers with Disabilities Committee. Don’t get her started about disabled actors being bypassed for roles portraying disabled persons!
She’s found plenty of roles in her career, however, such as the aforementioned Grizabella, Emma Goldman in “Ragtime,” Fraulein Schneider in “Cabaret,” Golde in “Fiddler on the Roof” (this writer is proud to say that’s where he met Hollander, performing in the same show), Sister Hubert in “Nunsense,” Blanche in “Brighton Beach Memoirs” and Mrs. Harcourt in “Anything Goes.” Hollander has also appeared on “Law & Order,” “Law & Order: SVU,” “As the World Turns,” “The Sopranos,” “Oz,” “Another World” and “All My Children.”
She was on “All My Children” with her husband and daughter, Paul and Holland Hamilton. Yep, not only did she continue with her career after her bout with cancer, she started a family. To give you some idea of her sense of humor, she jokes about sex in “Still Standing,” Guys, if you remember a bra strap slowing you down when things got hot and heavy, just imagine the problem a prosthesis can create!
Tickets for “Still Standing” are $20 and may be purchased online at oceantheatre.org, by phone at 609-312-8306, or at the box office starting an hour before the show.
— Rick Mellerup