THE NEW YORK TIMES
March 26, 2009
By Stephen Holden
THE ART THAT APPEALS TO THE HEART
Consider the defining concept of the great show-business anthem, “That’s Entertainment,” the encore of K T Sullivan’s effervescent new show “Dancing in the Dark: The Songs of Howard Dietz and Arthur Schwartz” at the Oak Room of the Algonquin Hotel: “The world is a stage/The stage is a world of entertainment.”
Rather than simply toss off those words with the usual rah-rah, star-spangled enthusiasm at Tuesday’s opening-night show, Ms. Sullivan and her musicians, Tedd Firth (piano) and Steve Doyle (bass), slowed the pace enough so the words’ wider implications seemed to occur to her at the spur the moment.
The ability to convey a sense of continual surprise and discovery while singing almost any standard is one of Ms. Sullivan’s many gifts. That her light-operatic voice is as supple today as ever is her ace in the hole. A virtuoso at multiple styles of musical comedy who has refined a hundred variations of the double take, Ms. Sullivan can turn on a dime and deliver a formal rendition of “Dancing in the Dark” in which her luscious middle and lower registers supply serious drama.
But the spirit of the show, which also includes the work of collaborators like Leo Robin, Frank Loesser, Dorothy Fields and Vernon Duke, is predominantly lighthearted. The show is a series of quick changes connected by smart, funny patter that doesn’t waste a remark.
Ms. Sullivan pairs several numbers (“Oh, but I Do” and “Confession”; “Two-Faced Woman” and “On the Other Hand”) for sly music comedy dialogues. “They’re Either Too Young or Too Old,” the witty World War II lament of a romantically starved woman on the home front introduced by Bette Davis in the movie “Thank Your Lucky Stars,” is sung in a dead-on impersonation of Davis’s dry, clipped delivery.
Adopting a fake French accent for “Paree,” a zany Bea Lillie number from the revue “At Home Abroad,” she polishes this expression of pretentiously overwrought enthusiasm for all things Parisian to a high comic buff.
Yes, the notion that the world is a stage and the stage a world may be as old as Shakespeare. But as Ms. Sullivan, wearing a top hat, ponders the notion, wide-eyed with wonder and amusement, you realize that even Shakespeare couldn’t have imagined the universe of Hollywood, reality television and the Internet: that’s entertainment, or infotainment. It’s all the same.
K T Sullivan continues through April 11 at the Oak Room at the Algonquin Hotel, 59 West 44th Street, Manhattan; (212) 419-9331, algonquinhotel.com.
March 23, 2009
By Elizabeth Ahlfors
KT's back and the Oak Room's got her.
KT Sullivan, jaunty and in charge, took the stage to salute to the songs of Howard Dietz and Arthur Schwartz. "A Shine on Your Shoes" shone with joy and optimism, her phrasing crisp, the energy building with Tedd Firth's chords behind her. To paraphrase Howard Dietz' last line, "What a wonderful way to start the show!"
Sullivan quipped, "This is the newer, older me." Newer is a voice stronger, more confident and more authoritative than ever. Older is a maturity with fresh interpretations and a high comfort level delivering them. One of the busiest performers in cabaret, Sullivan seems to be having a lot of fun these days, stretching her singing/acting/comic sides and aided here by the imaginative direction of Eric Michael Gillett.
The song pairings are ingenious; witness her wry, wide-eyed "Oh, But I Do" (lyric by Leo Robin) and sassy "Confession." Sullivan has an engaging way of smoothly dispensing just enough information. Dietz and Schwartz's most famous songs came from revues, and they wrote many of their songs for great stars. Evident is how symbiotic pairings can illuminate each other, as with "Two-Faced Woman" from Torch Song, paired with "On the Other Hand." Sullivan also goes spot-on into Bette Davis mode with "They're Either Too Young or Too Old" (lyric by Frank Loesser), phrasing like Bette and ending with a BD movie star flourish.
"You and the Night and the Music," taken by soprano Sullivan down to a sensual throaty lower tone, was written for husky-voiced, Libby Holman. Sullivan cleverly trios this between a bemused, "A Rainy Night in Rio" (Leo Robin), and "Paree" (written for Bea Lillie), in high comic style, feigning a faux Parisienne rife with pretensions. She underscores a German medley when she lays down the mike to scale the heights with "The Laughing Song" (Strauss's Die Fledermaus).
Sullivan takes her time persuading you that every state has something it is known for — "vests in Vest Virginia, tents from Tentasee" – and pointing out "Rhode Island is Famous for You." Also for Sullivan's husband, Steve Downey. Musicians Firth and Doyle back Sullivan, picking up the pace of each increasingly amusing verse.
Every song takes on a unique character. Heartbreaking is the loss that infuses "I See Your Face Before Me." Sullivan tells the story of Jack Buchanan's theater role in Between the Devil, where he is imprisoned, resigned to life alone, rendering "By Myself" a new darker, more hopeless aura. "Dancing in the Dark" evokes the yearning for love to brighten up the night. She tells how "Make the Man Love Me" (Dorothy Fields), written for an ingénue and "The Love I Long For" (Vernon Duke)written to be sung by a prostitute, both reflect the same feelings of unworthiness.
The "newer, older" KT Sullivan is better than ever, and with musical director/pianist Tedd Firth with Steve Doyle on bass behind her —"That's Entertainment."
KT Sullivan continues Dancing in the Dark at the Oak Room through April 11.