The idiosyncratic songwriter and internet pioneer debuts a new variety show at El Portal Theatre.
A few years ago, Allee Willis had Alice Walker over to her home. Willis, a very successful songwriter, composer, designer and Internet pioneer, was writing for the Broadway adaptation of Walker’s novel of domestic abuse and sexual identity in rural Georgia, “The Color Purple.” Walker dropped by Willis’ home in the San Fernando Valley to help out.
Willis’ home, for anyone who knows her website Allee Willis’ Museum of Kitsch, is a curatorial-grade monument to Americana trash culture and midcentury design, equal parts “Jetsons”-era atomic themes, 1970s blaxploitation artifacts and some truly grim party favors (think Handerpants, brief-styled mittens).
Eventually they started discussing how “Purple’s” character Celie felt when she finally extricates herself from her abusive relationship with her husband.
According to Willis, Walker spun around in her living-room chair and said, “Exactly like I felt when I walked in here.”
Willis’ entire career is a testament to the joy of idiosyncrasy, leavened with a serious devotion to artistic craft. Her new variety show, “Allee Willis’ Soup to Nuts Party Mix,” which played last night at the El Portal Theatre, is both an exhibition of her magpie discoveries and a walk through the catalog of hits she penned, including maybe the most recognizable TV theme of the ’90s, “I’ll Be There for You,” from “Friends”; Earth Wind & Fire’s “September” and “Boogie Wonderland”; the Pointer Sisters’ “Neutron Dance”; and scads more. It’s also an extremely tongue-in-cheek (but also not?) document of an only-in-L.A. life built around surrealist suburban house parties that are their own kind of public art.
“In the early ’80s I started throwing parties to do everything I couldn’t do in my career,” Willis said. “That’s when I realized, ‘I’m performing.’”