By Penelope Karageorge
Greek-American Rita Wilson, 56, best known as an actress and power behind My Big Fat Greek Wedding, has launched a triumphant new career as a singer/songwriter, realizing a lifelong dream. She recently opened at New York’s prestigious Carlyle Cafe to audience huzzahs and standing ovations. For those who missed her, they can tune in to her original song album due out early in 2015. Her compositions range from joyful to nostalgic to moving and vulnerable. Wilson has a smoky, sensual voice, and her genuine enjoyment of performing shines through every number.
“I’m here to tell you that great things can happen after age 50,” Wilson exulted to an enthusiastic crowd. “Thank you for sharing the start of my new life with me.” One of Wilson’s strengths as a performer is her charm and ability to communicate. She makes every audience member feel she’s talking to them directly.
According to Wilson, being Greek helped her get where she is, and also held her back. “My Greek mom had to flee her village in the middle of the night. Both she and my father took extreme risks to come to America. Not a day went by without my father saying ‘God Bless America.’ Their risk-taking made me risk-averse, so this career came later for me. I finally took the risk to get out on the stage and sing. Maybe I didn’t want to lose control. I wanted to be the good little soldier.”
In person, Wilson is a stunner, moving to the musical beat in a silver and black fringed outfit. She’s sexy and sensuous, without losing her ladylike persona. In her performance, she refers often to her Greek roots, even noting that “Aristotle – he’s a Greek – said that friendship is a single soul living in two bodies.” This preceded the lovely song Talking to Me. She confessed that she lost her father and two close friends during the past year and “I like to think the conversation continues after the person is gone.”
“I’m very proud of my Greek heritage. Greeks can be stubborn, and that’s me.” With her new career taking off, Wilson’s counting her blessings. “My mother is my best friend. She has Alzheimer’s but I’m so happy to have her with me. I feel blessed and appreciate all I have, my husband and children. I’m even happy for the bad things that happened along the way, even for the people who said I would never amount to anything. They all led up to my new beginning.” Wilson has two grown sons, and two step-children from her husband actor Tom Hanks’ first marriage.
As for My Big Fat Greek Wedding, Wilson said, “When I showed it to my mother, she loved it. But she said, ‘Of course, we’re not like them.’ Then my sister Lily, who lives next door, came over!” Wilson is widely credited with landing Nia Vardalos the movie deal for the film in 2002, now the top moneymaking independent film of all time. After seeing Vardalos perform her one-woman show, she urged her husband to set up the film at his company, Playtone, which shopped it around to financiers and distributors on the strength of the Hanks-Wilson seal of approval. Wilson’s now involved with production of the sequel to My Big Fat Greek Wedding, set to start filming in January.
Wilson’s won many new fans including Pedro Caballero, the Carlyle bartender who has seen them all including a Woody Allen jazz performance, when the arrival of Carla Bruni, wife of the former French president, caused a traffic jam of security men. Before the Rita Wilson show Caballero said: “You’re going to love this show. It’s completely different. Wilson’s one of the best. In my opinion, she has class. Her personality is awesome.”