NEW YORK TIMES
The Art That Appeals to the Heart
Published: March 25, 2009
Consider the defining concept of the great show-business anthem, “That’s Entertainment,” the encore of K T Sullivan’s effervescent new show “Dancing in the Dark: The Songs of Howard Dietz and Arthur Schwartz” at the Oak Room of the Algonquin Hotel: “The world is a stage/The stage is a world of entertainment.”
Rather than simply toss off those words with the usual rah-rah, star-spangled enthusiasm at Tuesday’s opening-night show, Ms. Sullivan and her musicians, Tedd Firth (piano) and Steve Doyle (bass), slowed the pace enough so the words’ wider implications seemed to occur to her at the spur the moment.
The ability to convey a sense of continual surprise and discovery while singing almost any standard is one of Ms. Sullivan’s many gifts. That her light-operatic voice is as supple today as ever is her ace in the hole. A virtuoso at multiple styles of musical comedy who has refined a hundred variations of the double take, Ms. Sullivan can turn on a dime and deliver a formal rendition of “Dancing in the Dark” in which her luscious middle and lower registers supply serious drama.
But the spirit of the show, which also includes the work of collaborators like Leo Robin, Frank Loesser, Dorothy Fields and Vernon Duke, is predominantly lighthearted. The show is a series of quick changes connected by smart, funny patter that doesn’t waste a remark.
Ms. Sullivan pairs several numbers (“Oh, but I Do” and “Confession”; “Two-Faced Woman” and “On the Other Hand”) for sly music comedy dialogues. “They’re Either Too Young or Too Old,” the witty World War II lament of a romantically starved woman on the home front introduced by Bette Davis in the movie “Thank Your Lucky Stars,” is sung in a dead-on impersonation of Davis’s dry, clipped delivery.
Adopting a fake French accent for “Paree,” a zany Bea Lillie number from the revue “At Home Abroad,” she polishes this expression of pretentiously overwrought enthusiasm for all things Parisian to a high comic buff.
Yes, the notion that the world is a stage and the stage a world may be as old as Shakespeare. But as Ms. Sullivan, wearing a top hat, ponders the notion, wide-eyed with wonder and amusement, you realize that even Shakespeare couldn’t have imagined the universe of Hollywood, reality television and the Internet: that’s entertainment, or infotainment. It’s all the same.
K T Sullivan continues through April 11 at the Oak Room at the Algonquin Hotel, 59 West 44th Street, Manhattan; (212) 419-9331, algonquinhotel.com.