KT Sullivan & Mark Nadler

KT Sullivan & Mark Nadler
A Fine Romance

Oak Room

There’s a double celebration by KT Sullivan and Mark Nadler at the famed Algonquin Hotel’s Oak Room. With A Fine Romance, they salute the centennial of lyricist Dorothy Fields and also inaugurate the 25th anniversary cabaret season at the hotel. With Fields’ earthy yet sophisticated wit, which Sullivan and Nadler compare to that of Oak Room denizen, Dorothy Parker, it’s a fine mix.

The show opens and closes with a unique twist. Sullivan and Nadler enter, and later exit, with no accompaniment but their own ukulele plucking to I Can’t Give You Anything But Love, which Fields wrote with Jimmy McHugh. Why the ukulele? Ukulele Ike (Cliff Edwards) had the first big hit. There’s a rumor that Fats Waller originally wrote the tune but needed money and sold it, as well as On the Sunny Side of the Street, to Jimmy McHugh. The name on all the sheet music, however, is Dorothy Fields and Jimmy McHugh, so we’ll stick with that now. Opening and closing with that song was a wistful touch, with sweeping Jerome Kern melodies like The Way You Look Tonight and I’m in the Mood for Love, tucked in the middle along with potent illustrations of Fields’ lyric genius like Remind Me and A Fine Romance.

Dorothy Fields wrote with several composers, including Kern, Arthur Schwartz, and Cy Coleman, with whom she wrote two Broadway musicals, SeeSaw and Sweet Charity. Like a protective kewpie doll, Sullivan presents He Had Refinement from A Tree Grows in Brooklyn, as part of a medley of tunes showing Fields’ wry take on disillusioned love. It’s a highpoint of the show, sung with punchy wit by Sullivan. Nadler showed his dizzy fingers prowess with Digga Digga Do, written for the Cotton Club during Fields and McHugh’s early days. Together, the two bantered melodically to the title song and a pairing of I Won’t Dance/Never Gonna Dance (Kern), an intriguing blend of humor and dread.

There’s minimum informational patter and plenty of songs to illustrate Fields’ talents and the music’s popularity. Like Johnny Mercer, Fields wrote the way people speak, and that was her strength.

Directed by Hope Hardcastle, KT Sullivan and Mark Nadler deliver an entertaining, crisply paced slice of the Dorothy Fields’ musical compendium. The pair has refined a flair for sharp, lighthearted humor. A Fine Romance is a fine show.

Elizabeth Ahlfors
Cabaret Scenes
September 6, 2005