February 10, 2005
A Mix of Cake and Caffeine, and the Songs of Jule Styne
n "Everything's Coming Up Roses," a ferociously entertaining tribute to the composer Jule Styne, KT Sullivan and Mark Nadler, two dizzy throwbacks to old-time show business archetypes, join forces to become the Oddest Couple of Cabaret.
Both have flourishing solo careers. She's a perpetually fading comic bombshell, a Marilyn manquée who ambulates with a wide-eyed jiggle while wielding an improbable semi-operatic soprano. He's a frenzied, piano-banging, jabbering encyclopedia of show business lore who suggests a Frankenstein-like resurrection of Al Jolson, wired from head to toe with the voltage turned on high.
When they pool their zaniness, the dessert they cook up suggests an angel food cake spiked with double espresso. She calms him down; he wakes her up. In the show, playing at the Oak Room of the Algonquin Hotel, their rapport is so cozy they all but finish each other's sentences. Styne, who died 11 years ago at 88, was himself a gee-whiz enthusiast and an inexhaustible reservoir of brash show tunes, which he could crank out on demand in just minutes. His musical optimism suits performers who are much more comfortable having fun than when searching their souls.
Which is not to say that "Everything's Coming Up Roses" is without reflective moments. On the whole, the show is an energetic chronology of Styne's musical life and times that avoids sticky nostalgia. Songs from "Gypsy," "Funny Girl" and "Bells Are Ringing," as well as lesser-known musicals, are strung into inventive medleys and duets.
But when Ms. Sullivan croons a sweetly wistful version of "People," standing beside the piano, it revolves around the words, "We're children needing other children." The lovers who are "very special people" in the same song are seen as a more mature breed that this latter-day Peter and Wendy contemplate longingly from afar.
The same ingenuousness informs Mr. Nadler's version of "Diamonds Are a Girl's Best Friend," sung from the point of view of a pauper who can't afford to lavish bling on his dream dates. The song, which follows his remarks on Styne's gambling habit, is the cleverest change of pace in a show that for all its giddy pleasure at living in the past never loses its head.