THE NEW YORK OBSERVOR
Two Broadway Blondes Light Up This Cabaret Season
By Rex Reed
April 7, 2009 |
Oklahoma! To the Oak Room
KT Sullivan Algonquin Oak Room
About 30 blocks south of the Carlyle, KT Sullivan is back at the Algonquin’s fabled Oak Room, turning New York’s most jaded sophisticates into gushing fans, clamoring for more. She’s a staple now on the cabaret circuit, but no show in her vast repertoire has ever been better than this. “Dancing in the Dark,” a celebration of the legendary songwriting team of Howard Dietz and Arthur Schwartz, is as sophisticated and beguiling as anything I have enjoyed in a long, long time. It is doubtful that any living performer loves the classical songs from the golden age of musicals as much as this fizzy blond bombshell, and I am convinced her goal at this junction in her life is to sing them all. And she can always be counted on to unveil a few surprises.
Dietz and Schwartz could write anything, and from the 21 songs in this show, you get the cream of the crop, including not only the evergreens they wrote together, but their separate collaborations penned with Dorothy Fields, Vernon Duke, Leo Robin, Frank Loesser and—are you ready?—Johann Strauss. The latter is represented by special lyrics added for Patrice Munsel in a production of Die Fledermaus that brings down the house. From a book of Dietz lyrics shown to her by his widow, the great designer Lucinda Ballard, KT enlisted the late Bart Howard to construct a beautiful ballad called “Lovely.” Love is explored from the point of view of an ingénue (“Make the Man Love Me” from the Schwartz-Dorothy Fields score of A Tree Grows in Brooklyn) and a prostitute (“The Love I Long For,” introduced by June Havoc in the brilliant Dietz–Vernon Duke score for Sadie Thompson). KT even does a pretty darn ravishing impression of Bette Davis introducing “They’re Either Too Young or Too Old” from the Warner Brothers movie Thank Your Lucky Stars (“What’s good is in the army/ What’s left will never harm me/ I’ve looked the field over and lo and behold/ They’re either too young or too old”). You’ll thrill to the hilarious rhymes of “Rhode Island Is Famous for You” and the obscure “Blue Grass,” from the revue Inside USA, about a Kentucky gal who loses her guy to a horse (“Blue dawn … Blue noon … Only see him in a blue moon …”). Accompanied by Tedd Firth on piano and Steve Doyle on bass, she fills an hour with more music than you can remember. With Cole Porter or Jerome Kern, you get largely what you already know. With Dietz and Schwartz, together and apart, you make discoveries: “Rainy Night in Rio,” “Confession,” songs written for Beatrice Lillie and Libby Holman, and a new arrangement of “That’s Entertainment” that sounds less like a salute to vaudeville and more like a Biblical litany of show business possibilities through history. One of the few sopranos who overcomes power and range to achieve intimacy, KT is a marvel. Even when she’s introspective, she is never somber. Johnny Mercer used to say there are three kinds of people in the world—men, women and girl singers. Pity he never met KT Sullivan. She could charm the honey out of a nest of bees with that kewpie doll smile. Even her ears grin. She’s a cross between Jeanette MacDonald, Mae West and Little Lulu. Drop in the Algonquin and see what I mean. She does all the work while you sit back, have fun and learn something.