KT Sullivan & Mark Nadler


March 18, 2006

Cabaret Review | 'A Swell Party'

They Skip the Bio and Cut To the Cole Porter Chase


In the language of Cole Porter: oo-la-la-la! C'est magnifique!

That burst of Gallic joie describes the ebullience of "A Swell Party R.S.V.P. Cole Porter," the truly fabulous Porter tribute winked, smirked, crooned and shouted by K T Sullivan and Mark Nadler at the Oak Room of the Algonquin Hotel. A departure from the team's zany tutorials on luminaries of the great American songbook, "A Swell Party" skips the biographical part to deliver songs both famous and obscure, in a delirious whoosh of lubricious exuberance.

Imparting the composer's live-for-the-moment-of-passion philosophy, Ms. Sullivan and Mr. Nadler suggest a very ripened Botticelli Venus squired by Danny Kaye, freshly reincarnated as a hyperkinetic piano man visiting from vaudeville heaven. A valuable new addition to their act, the saxophonist Loren Schoenberg injects instrumental comedy into "Let's Do It," by deflating the phrase sung as "let's fall in love" by inflecting it with a corny vibrato; no, the song is definitely not about love. Later he returns for a husky insinuating solo of "Begin the Beguine" in which the singers and the bassist John Loehrke join him to evoke an image of an ocean liner swimming in Champagne at 4 a.m.

Beneath the brilliantine surface of Porter's lyrics, everything is sexual. The only times his double-entendres fade into the background is during sighs of besotted yearning and cries of rapture. Only then does lust turn into the kind of love that's "too hot not to cool down."

"A Swell Party" probably has more showstoppers than any other cabaret show this season. Here are two: After taking "Kate the Great," an editorial brief for nymphomania that offers Catherine the Great as a role model ("she made the butler/ she made the groom/ she made the maid who made the room"), Mr. Nadler astutely observes that the song describes how Porter might have ruled Russia.

The giddiest of Ms. Sullivan's several turns as erotic philosopher is a swiveling, eye-rolling "Most Gentlemen Don't Like Love," which warns all gals: "So just remember when you get that glance/ A romp and a quickie/ Is all little Dickie/ Means/ When he mentions romance."

There's more, much more where that came from in a show that reminds you that half the pleasure of excess is finding the perfect words to describe it.

"A Swell Party {mdash} R.S.V.P. Cole Porter" remains through April 1 at the Oak Room of the Algonquin Hotel, 59 West 44th Street, Manhattan, (212) 419-9331.