KT Sullivan


March 18, 2003

In Performance


Sneak Attacks Above the Chimney Tops
KT Sullivan

Algonquin Hotel

To watch the singer KT Sullivan and her pianist and vocal partner, Larry Woodard, perform the music of Harold Arlen is to discover how a light touch applied to heavyweight songs (like "Stormy Weather," "Over the Rainbow" and "Last Night When We Were Young," to name three) can open them up in a way that a more conventionally stentorian approach rarely does.

Ms. Sullivan, a natural comedian, has refined an amusing parody of the flighty, wispy-voiced "dumb blonde" as resplendent as a wedding cake as she jiggles her way through life.

If that image seems at odds with the music of Arlen, the composer whose sweeping blues-flavored laments have fueled the careers of Lena Horne, Judy Garland, Barbra Streisand and Audra McDonald, it's really an artful sham. The role enables Ms. Sullivan to conduct sly sneak attacks on the songs that reveal them in a fresh light. When this supposedly dizzy dame puts a smart, witty spin on "If I Only Had a Brain," the joke resonates. And Mr. Woodard, with his jolly, deceptively offhand support contributes to the mood of playful intimacy.

The show, "Let's Fall in Love," which runs through April 12 at the Oak Room of the Algonquin Hotel (59 West 44th Street, Manhattan), has the feel of a personalized guided tour by two longtime chums, both old hands at the game. The stories of Arlen, a cantor's son from Buffalo, and such lyric collaborators as E. Y. Harburg and Ira Gershwin have been compacted into witty anecdotal bonbons, most of them taken from Edward Jablonski's biography of Arlen.

The music is what counts the most of course. And Ms. Sullivan's renditions of "It's a New World" (the beautiful, overlooked ballad from "A Star Is Born"), the regretful "Last Night When We Were Young," and the jauntily self-mocking "Fun to Be Fooled" convey a rare balance of insight and lighthearted pleasure.