KT Sullivan: All the Things You Are
September 26, 2008
By David Finkle
Were the persona that KT Sullivan presents in All the Things You Are a fictional character, she would have been written by Henry James or Edith Wharton — or nowadays by Louis Auchincloss. She's a grand but never grandiose woman into whose life some sun has shone, but who, despite her wealth and privilege, has also been exposed to the rains of unfortunate romance.
Sullivan — whose complexion could very well have reduced many an Oil of Olay model to tears — has shown glimpses of this imposing personage before, but more often than not she's put her gleaming soprano to use as a soubrette. Indeed, over the years, she's not infrequently had trouble sustaining serious material because in her Lorelei Lee-ish way, she's so naturally funny.
Lorelei takes a breather through the first half of Sullivan's current Oak Room at the Algonquin Hotel tribute to Jerome Kern's music, although tribute may be misleading. The room regular and her shrewd director, Eric Michael Gillett, don't just tick off the material with which they're most comfortable and for which musical director Tedd ("Is there anything he can't do?) Firth can imagine lovely arrangements. No, they use the songs to create the portrait of a lady who declares "I'm Old Fashioned" (lyric by Johnny Mercer) and means it. The beaded off-the-shoulder gown reiterates the statement.
Mentioning that Kern and his top-drawer collaborators wrote songs about "women left on pianos" after men deserted them, Sullivan does a number of selections about the lovelorn. A few are turned into inventive medleys. For one, she combines "Don't Ever Leave Me" with "Can't Help Lovin' Dat Man of Mine" (both lyrics by Oscar Hammerstein II). For another, she begins with the "All in Fun" verse (Hammerstein) and segues into the hilarious Dorothy Fields words for "A Fine Romance" before circling back to the "All in Fun" chorus. But she doesn't keep to the relatively lighthearted attitude these songs might be said to express. She finds the anger and disappointment in them and plays that up big time.
In remarkable good voice and skirting the pitch glitch she sometimes manifests, Sullivan returns to the strong, seemingly highborn but wounded figure through the rest of the show. She even goes boldly where few singers of her range rarely go: She sings "Ol' Man River" and makes it work. After all, it's not only the downtrodden who suffer indifference: Ol' Man River makes no class distinctions. Incidentally, Sullivan does change the line in the verse from "Let me go 'way from de white man boss" to "let me go 'way from the big man boss." Show Boat mavens are bound to notice.
By the second half of the set Sullivan is occasionally in a more carefree mood — especially in two songs for which puckish P.G. Wodehouse supplied the daft lyrics, "Bungalow in Quogue," with its string of "og" rhymes, and "Nesting Time in Flatbush." She shows comic pique throughout "Life Upon the Wicked Stage" (Hammerstein), gets Lorelei Lee-ish in the Wodehouse-Kern "Leave it to Jane" classic "Cleopatterer," and goes jazz baby on "Nobody Else But Me" (Hammerstein).
Sullivan, making a nice habit of sustained final notes, begs off with "Yesterdays" (lyric by Otto Harbach) and "Can I Forget You? (Hammerstein, and wasn't he a boon for Kern?). By then it's plain that what the soigné singer can't forget — to the audience's benefit — are those melodic yesterdays.