K.T. Sullivan and Mark Nadler are rekindling the fire of Cole Porter through April 1 in the Algonquin’s Oak Room.
What a swell party it is
By Jerry Tallmer
Cole the Great resided — make that presided — at the intersection of homosexual sensibility and heterosexual hungers. His marriage of scorching wit and fearless passion puts to snoring shame what are these days known as jukebox Broadway musicals, and if you would like a wake-up powder, it’s being gloriously dispensed seven times a week in this town by the nonpareil team of Miss K.T. Sullivan and Mr. Mark Nadler.
“A Swell Party: RSVP Cole Porter” the invitation reads, and the party they’re throwing is at the Algonquin — “It’s de-lovely, it’s de-licious, it’s de-Oak Room” — Tuesdays through Saturdays through April 1. You will, if you are me, ache with pleasure and with longing.
Mark Nadler, at the piano, plays, sings, talks, informs, arranges, does everything. Blonde, bountiful K.T. Sullivan, at one or another microphone, sings, swanks, seduces, enlightens, circulates the premises, fences with Nadler. Their range, separately or together, is from light as angel dust to full-throttle takeoff. That is also the range of emotions of the show.
Backing both are the invaluable saxophone of Loren Schoenberg, the indispensable bass of big John Loehrke — “our hippopotamus,” as Nadler interjects at the moment at which Cole Porter’s most undisguisedly daring of all songs comes to: “I’m sure giraffes on the sly do it / Heavy hippopotami do it / Let’s do it, let’s fall in love … ”
That’s the jesting in, as I say, endlessly ingenious homosexual byplay.
Here, from “King Lear,” the heterosexual translation of birds do it, bees do it...:
“The wren goes to’t, and the small gilded fly
Does lecher in my sight.
Let copulation thrive …
The fitchew, nor the soiled horse, goes to’t
With a more riotous appetite …
But to the girdle do the gods inherit
Beneath is all the fiend’s … ”
When Mark and K.T. hit Porter’s “Let’s fall in love … Let’s fall in love … Let’s fall in love,” you know that what they and Cole Porter really wish to celebrate, without any leering (Learing?) whatsoever, is copulation — let it thrive! — with love coming along for the canter, if it wishes. Same when Mark sings to K.T., and all of girdled womankind: “You’ve got that THING, that makes birds refuse to sing …”
That’s serious enough, but then their show, and its import, goes deep, deep, and deeper — well, bittersweet deeper — with the broken-heart classics or wry regrets of “I’ve Got You Under My Skin,” “Get Out of Town Before It’s Too Late, My Dear” (I see a black-and-white 1940s B-film Main Street as they do this one), “Every Time We Say Goodbye” (my heart breaks a little), and then, oh God, a Paris medley.
Makes me want to rush out and jump on an Air France jet — a flight, if not to Paris, then to the moon on gossamer wings. What a line! What a song! What a man! What a wonderful pair, these two are, Sullivan the golden schicksa, Nadler the, shall we say, non-schicksa who’s beginning to look more and more like Groucho Marx every day, only better.
Nadler turns a “Kate the Great” into ragtime, Sullivan lights a torch under “Get Out of Town.” Nadler educates us as to the minor keys, major keys of Cole Porter, small-town boy from Peru, Indiana, where my mother’s envelopes came from. Porter wrote a lot in minor key because he saw all around him successful Jewish composers who wrote in minor keys. But most of those songs had a way of ending up in major key — “it’s funny how truth will come out.”
Back from Paris, back from the moon, down on the ground: “Most gentlemen don’t like love, they just like to kick it around … As Gertrude Stein put it, in some weighty tome, A man is a man is a man is a man — oh, Alice, send them all home!” I don’t know if those last six words are Porter’s or Nadler’s, but they got a laugh out of me.
And then, wham, the Big One. “ … In the roaring traffic’s boom / In the silence of my lonely room / I think of you … ”
Many a night and day, in his lonely room, did my father play the record of that song. Fred Astaire. Cole Porter. Mark Nadler. K.T. Sullivan. Come again. Oh please, come again.
A SWELL PARTY: RSVP COLE PORTER. K.T. Sullivan and Mark Nadler, backed by Loren Schoenberg and John Loehrke, through April 1 in the Oak Room of the Hotel Algonquin, 59 West 44th Street, (212) 419-9331. Tuesdays through Thursdays at 9 p.m., Fridays and Saturdays, 9 and 11:30 p.m. $50 cover charge per person plus $20 minimum or $50 prix-fixe dinner.