NEW YORK SUN
MARCH 23-24, 2007
BY WILL FRIEDWALD
Taking a show tune or even a jazz standard (like "Caravan") and placing it in a new context is an indispensable part of a jazz musician's arsenal. Cabaret singers do the same thing in a different way when they take a song from a musical comedy and place it in the context of a one- or two-person nightclub set. With their new production, "Make Someone Happy," the team of K.T. Sullivan and Mark Nadler elevate the concept of re-contextualization to a whole new level.
It's a brilliant move for the Oak Room's first couple. I've long thought the traditional songbook show, in which the songs of a single composer or team are interspersed with biographical factoids, was not something that they did as well as, say, Mary Cleere Haran or Eric Comstock.
What Mr. Nadler and Ms. Sullivan do better than almost anyone, however, is comedy; I would much rather hear them spout punch lines with their trademark impeccable comic timing than rattle off names and dates. In the new show, wisely subtitled "The Words of Betty Comden & Adolf Green" (who, like Ms. Sullivan and Mr. Nadler, were strictly a platonic partnership), they not only treat us to songs from a dozen shows, but hammer together dialogue from that many films into a gloriously ersatz new narrative — it's kind of the cabaret equivalent of sampling.
They sing wonderfully, to the tune of Mr. Nadler's increasingly sophisticated and contrapuntal medley arrangements (with their familiar Broadway style modulations). But what really makes the show so entertaining is the incongruous, almost Dadaist way the twosome radically juxtaposes the lines and plots of such classic musicals as "The Bandwagon" and "On the Town." Never before had I realized that the line "I had Miss Hodges too" could have a double meaning, or that "Never Met a Man I Didn't Like" — the Will Rogers maxim transformed into song — could be taken for a Blue Angel-like résumé of sexual conquests, a requiem for a "cooch dancer," sung in Coney Island, "Playground of the Rich."
It's good to know, to quote that eminent sage Lena Lamont (in "Singin' in the Rain"), that their "hard work ain't been in vain fer nothin'!"