KT Sullivan & Mark Nadler

The title of KT Sullivan and Mark Nadler’s show at the Savoy Room this week - Time After Time: Celebrating the American Songbook – may seem a bit ambitious; that takes in a lot of territory, after all.  As it turns out, however, it’s just Truth in Advertising.  In the course of just over two hours, the duo covered – in whole or in part – around forty songs with music by the likes of Cole Porter, Irving Berlin, Jule Styne, Richard Rodgers, Jerome Kern, the Gershwins and Jimmy McHugh.  Featured lyricists include Oscar Hammerstein, Dorothy Fields, Adolph Green, and Sammy Cahn. 


Only Stephen Sondheim – who is, arguably, at the chronological end of the period usually covered by The American Songbook – was short-changed.  He was represented as a lyricist in a set of songs from Gypsy, granted, but the only Sondheim composition on the program was “Old Friends” from Merrily We Roll Along.  As if by way of compensation, Mr. Nadler and Ms. Sullivan did the Act I reprise of the song, in which friendly greetings quickly deteriorate into lyrical bickering and finally a literal shouting match that abruptly changes into the final chorus. 


“Now there’s something you don’t see every day, Chauncy”, as they used to say on Rocky and Bullwinkle.  Their timing was impeccable and the song came across beautifully.


The bulk of the evening consisted of material that will be familiar to any lover of musical theatre or cabaret.  There was a generous helping of Cole Porter, for example, including the expected songs about Paris (“I Love Paris” and “You Don’t Know Paree”, ingeniously mingled with “After You, Who?” in French translation) and a set from Kiss Me, Kate (a show which would surely be on the ash heap of history now if it weren’t for the wonderful score).  There was a brace of Richard Rodgers numbers about women (inspired by the composer’s numerous extra-marital dalliances) and a medley of Kern/Fields classics such as “Never Gonna Dance”, “Lovely to Look At” and “The Way You Look Tonight”.  The Gershwins were represented by only one song – “‘S Wonderful” – but Mr. Nadler combined it with about a third of Rhapsody in Blue to create a virtuoso showpiece for voice and piano.


Indeed, Mr. Nadler’s formidable talents as pianist, singer and comic – to say nothing of his brilliance as an arranger - dominated the evening.  He used Berlin’s “I Love a Piano”, for example, as a platform for a hilarious musical slapstick routine that seemed to be channeling Chico Marx by way of Jerry Lee Lewis and Bugs Bunny with a bit of Victor Borge thrown in for good measure..........Ms Sullivan was a delight, especially in drolleries such as Porter’s “The Tale of the Oyster” (from Fifty Million Frenchmen) and Rodgers and Hart’s “To Keep My Love Alive” (written for Vivienne Segal the ill-fated 1943 revival of A Connecticut Yankee).  Too, there is considerable affection between Ms. Sullivan and Mr. Nadler, which added extra depth to numbers like “Thanks for the Memory” and “Make Believe”.


On the whole, though, Time After Time felt more like warm-up for Mr. Nadler’s upcoming solo show in New York than the kind of team effort displayed in the duo’s Irving Berlin show that graced the Sheldon Concert Hall in 2004.  Happily, Mr. Nadler had enough energy for an entire ensemble, let alone a duo, and the show brought the current Savoy Room series to a pleasant close.