At first glance, they seem an unlikely pair; on closer inspection, a match made in songbook heaven. She, a wide-eyed Gibson girl in whose breast beats the heart of a subversive; he, an urbane, manic love child of Cole Porter and Sid Caesar. Lucky for us, in A Fine Romance, KT Sullivan and Mark Nadler are at their peak, celebrating the subversively wide-eyed, urbane and humane canon of one of the American Songbook's greatest lyricists, Dorothy Fields.
Fields is notable as the only towering female songwriter in a club with Cole Porter, Rodgers and Hart, the Gershwins, Irving Berlin and others who penned Broadway. Hollywood and popular hits from the 1920s till the Age of Aquarius. She was known for her elegantly casual turn of phrase, ear for slang, interior rhyming, impeccable fashion sense and incomparable parties. Ironically, in her centennial year, the name Dorothy Fields is virtually unknown outside theatre circles. Not so for her songs, written mainly with Jimmy McHugh, Jerome Kern, Cy Coleman and Arthur Schwartz. From "Grab your coat and get your hat," to "The minute you walked in the joint," her words have become part of our American fabric.
In this intelligent, insightful and joyous CD, Sullivan and Nadler explore Field's lyrics in the spirit they were intended. Again and again, the singers use their own wit and optimism to highlight the same qualities in the lyrics, juxtaposing songs, themes, and fragments in musically elegant salades nicoises.
Sullivan's lyric soprano pins "Lovely to Look At" (Fields's "tryout" assignment for Jerome Kern, for the movie Roberta) up against Nadler's low-key baritone and "The Way You Look Tonight" (possibly the finest ballad ever written, and Fields's Oscar) in a meditation on being riveted to one's adored. In Nadler's hands, the most familiar "I'm in the Mood For Love," and the most unfamiliar (and today, politically iffy) "Digga Digga Do," intertwine until they morph into "I'm in the mood for digga digga do." While the lesser known gem, "Growing Pains," written as a father's turn of the century advice to a daughter for Broadway's A Tree Grows in Brooklyn, merges with a pep talk for another kind of baby, in Sweet Charity's "Baby, Dream Your Dream"- two neighborhoods, eons apart - dreams and make-believe colliding with persistent reality. Fields's gift was not only facility with words, but a surprising way of looking at life's situations-deceptively casual, always incisive. Oscar Hammerstein could write, full-hearted, "I'm in love with a wonderful guy." For Fields (and here, a matter-of fact Sullivan), that same sentiment is expressed as "I've got a lump in my throat for poor everybody else" (from Seesaw, Fields's last Broadway show).
Sullivan and Nadler treat us to beloved standards like "On the Sunny Side of the Street," a Depression anthem that served as an upbeat antidote to "Brother Can You Spare a Dime;" "I Can't Give You Anything But Love;" "Remind Me," perhaps Fields's finest lyric; "A Fine Romance" with its battle of the sexes, and the inexplicable alchemy of "Don't Blame Me." But they also serve up some near forgotten treasures, like the haunting "Don't Mention Love to Me," a Hollywood collaboration with Oscar Levant: "I'll Try," a duet from the 1959 Gwen Verdon vehicle Redhead; and Sullivan's delicious medley of Broadway character songs (three written for Shirley Booth, one for Pearl Bailey), including "He Had Refinement," which the lyricist Fred Ebb once called "One of the finest lyrics in all of musical comedy literature." One of Fields's most sublime lyric lines was invented as a final rhyme for "Baby, Dream Your Dream:" "Life will be frozen peaches and cream." Sullivan and Nadler's heartfelt, sophisticated centennial celebration is exactly that. Thanks to DRG, all that remains between us and such a confection, is the spin of a CD.