KDHX Theatre Review - K.T. Sullivan and Mark Nadler: Sweet and Low Down
Grandel Theatre Cabaret , St. Louis, Missouri
Reviewed by Steve Callahan
Oh, I'm so very glad there is a Grandel Cabaret series! They give you such great, satisfying servings of American song! K.T. Sullivan and Mark Nadler have come from New York to open their Sweet and Low Down evening of Gershwin. Well, Gershwin is so wonderful and so prolific that you could do a week, a month, a year of Gershwin and not get tired of him. Sullivan and Nadler pack their show with literally scores of Gershwin tunes--from the familiar classics to obscure novelties from forgotten Broadway shows. They even sing a "new" song, "You're Very Lucky", written seventy years ago, but never before performed in public.
K.T. Sullivan is a sexy, slightly zaftig blonde with a clear, pure soprano voice that's capable of most impressive variations in timbre and attitude. She can be a little purring girl in "Tiss Me", a lustful vamp in "Do, Do, Do, What You Done, Done, Done Before". Then she turns in a wryly comic rendition of "Embraceable You" where she portrays a faded French chanteuse. It's in tortured French and is sung with a smoky, choked, Parisian accent. On the standard love songs and torch songs she's romantic and honest and beautiful.
Sullivan, when it's appropriate, exhibits that sexy slight nasality--especially on her "R's"--that has found its way to her from May West via Bernadette Peters. She sings effortlessly-her well-trained voice utterly comfortable in finding that precise pitch at the precise instant. On the last note of a song she'll strike it absolutely dead center, with no vibrato at all. She'll hold that shaft of purity, let it swell, then, at the very last, decorate it with just the littlest garland of vibrato.
K.T. Sullivan is a fine performer. But her partner and accompanist almost steals the show from her. Picture a young Abe Lincoln with a voraciously wide grin. And with Valentino's oily hair. In tails. That's Mark Nadler--a gifted comic, a singer, dancer, raconteur. And one of the most remarkable pianists you're ever apt to meet. He takes the common cabaret artist's ability to play while singing to new, almost circus heights. This man can play a full accompaniment with his left hand while his right hand is emoting and while he's singing with his face turned three-quarters of the way back over his shoulder--a position which would totally strangle the voices of most humans. Nadler can play beautifully while standing on the bench or even while tap-dancing quite credibly. He's very, very funny with a precise sense of comic timing. His solo song "Vod-ka", a paean to that crystal deceiver, becomes the comic summit of the evening.
But these are the least of his gifts. He's such a musician! His long, beautiful hands drift in a romantic ballet over the keys. (Oh, that sounds corny, but it's true!) He gives them a true lover's touch. He plays "They Can't Take That Away From Me" with such soft, deliberate gentle precision that you can hear the beauty of each note, each harmony, as you've never heard them before. "The Man I Love" shows a similar gentle purity, then grows into a fierce, rich, complex interpretation that lends a lovely touch of urgency to K.T. Sullivan in her next chorus.
Nadler gives us some "Rhapsody in Blue" that simply dazzles. And then amazes us by singing "'Swonderful" on top of it.
In their second half Sullivan and Nadler present a delightful precis of Fred Astaire and Ginger Rogers' movie "Come Dance with Me".
The evening holds all of your Gershwin favorites--"Summertime", "How Long Has This Been Going On?", "But Not For Me", "Our Love is Here to Stay" (done gorgeously), and a lovely, intimate version of Gershwin's first hit, "Swanee".