Broadway's Jule Styne gets musical tribute
By Frederick M. Winship
UNITED PRESS INTERNATIONAL
New York, NY, Feb. 21 (UPI) -- KT Sullivan and Mark Nadler have teamed up to salute composer Jule Styne's immense contribution to the Broadway musical in a delightful cabaret turn at the Oak Room of the Algonquin Hotel through Feb. 26.
Sullivan and Nadler, both of whom have successful solo careers, make an entertainment match made in heaven, a rare combination of talents that blend perfectly together. She sings to his accompaniment at the piano. He sings and accompanies himself. Best of all they sing together.
Sullivan has the big sexy eyes, cupid's bow mouth and creamy complexion of an 1890s vaudeville star, and she dresses up to that role in an off-shoulder black velvet gown worn with black ostrich feathers in her upswept blond hair. She has a pliant lyric soprano that can range from torchy brightness to light opera froth that marks her as a throwback to an earlier theatrical era.
Nadler is an exuberant personality, flashily dressed and bigger than life. He is not subservient, as most accompanists are, but is an equal artist to Sullivan in every way. His body language and facial expressions are exaggerated and fun to watch, as are his nimble fingers subduing the ivories, and he can be vocally ferocious or sensitive to suit the material he sings.
They have titled their show "Everything's Coming Up Roses" after the remarkable "Gypsy" anthem, and they perform 23 selections from that show and other classic Styne musicals including "Bells Are Ringing," "Funny Girl," "Gentlemen Prefer Blondes," "Peter Pan" and "Sugar" in the form of solos, duets and medleys. Their delivery is direct, almost never contemplative.
The carefully worked out show marks the 100th birthday anniversary of Styne, who died in 1994. He was one of the few U.S. composers to win Oscar, Tony, Grammy and Emmy awards.
A British-born child piano prodigy, he began his career as a composer in Hollywood and then turned to Broadway, enjoying a smash hit on his second try, "High Button Shoes," in 1947. He wrote 13 long-run shows with such lyricists as Bob Merrill, Betty Comden and Adolph Green, Leo Robin, Sammy Cahn, Frank Loesser and Stephen Sondheim. He also wrote some turkeys.
"Styne was a gambler in private life, and in his career he took monumental risks with both hits and flops to his credit," Sullivan observes.
She and Nadler resuscitate a Styne rarity, "Boogie Woogie Shoogie, Baby of Mine," that was cut from "Bells Are Ringing" but later recorded by Styne, and the first song Styne ever wrote, "Sunday," a solo hit for Nadler. But most of their material is familiar to lovers of the Broadway musical's golden age of abundantly melodic scores and towering stage personalities.
Both entertainers practice the magic of switching character styles to fit each song, rather than singing all the songs in the same mode as many cabaret artists do in order to create a distinctive style.
They blend "Penniless Bums" from "Sugar" into "Diamonds are a Girl's Best Friend" in a way that suggests a pauper's lament on not being able to buy his girlfriend the jewels she deserves. Another nicely matched pair of songs is "Bye Bye Baby," sung by Nadler, with Sullivan replying pleadingly with a rendition of "I Don't Want To Walk Without You, Baby."
Among Sullivan's solo offerings are a ravishing rendition of "People" without any of Barbra Streisand's vocal mannerisms and a torchy "Guess I'll Hang My Tears Out to Dry," a song she floats as lightly as thistledown. Nadler gets just the right rush of excitement felt when meeting the right girl for the first time into "I Met A Girl," originally sung by Sydney Chaplin in "Bells Are Ringing."
Sullivan rediscovers "Time After Time," a lovely love song from Styne's score for the now forgotten 1947 Frank Sinatra film, "It Happened in Brooklyn," and Nadler performs on the piano a haunting melody from the ballet film "The Red Shoes" that Styne later incorporated in one of his flops, "Look To the Lilies."For an encore they join in singing "Every Street's A Boulevard in Old New York," the hit song from one of Styne's lesser contributions to Broadway, "Hazel Flagg." It's one of the great musical tributes to the Big Apple and leaves the Oak Room audience cheering and hoping for more.