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A London Review

By Jack Massarik
Pizza on the Park
April 23, 2009

RESPLENDENT in a scarlet off-the-shoulder gown – “call it magenta” – the glamorous KT Sullivan is one of those classically trained singers who seem to be inhaling when producing their highest notes. She also possesses a late-blooming vibrato, ultra-clear diction, a playful Irish-American sense of humor and a blues feel most U.S .vocalists share.

Her American Songbook in London show focuses on Jerome Kern, whose evergreen masterpieces include "Smoke Gets In Your Eyes," "The Folks Who Live on the Hill" and "All the Things You Are," arguably the finest popular song ever written. She does them all justice, plus such lesser known gems as "Ol’ Man River," "The Last Time I Saw Paris" and a PG Wodehouse lyric, "Nesting Time in Flatbush."

“He liked American placenames,” she explained, “and I like yours. My favourite is Nether Wallop.” Noting that Kern wrote lots of songs about women "left on pianos with nothing but a song and a bottle of gin," she delivered "Raggedy Ann" atop the grand.

On keys, incidentally, is Chicagoan Jon Weber, whose Simple/Complex album received rave jazz reviews. No mere accompanist, he produces dazzling right-hand lines and skilful stride-piano breaks.

Definitely recommended.


Excavating a Monument's Earthly Side
K T Sullivan at the Oak Room of the Algonquin Hotel.

New York Times
Published: September 26, 2008

Jerome Kern, the composer of “All the Things You Are,” “Smoke Gets in Your Eyes” and the music from “Show Boat,” is widely regarded as the rock upon which American popular song was built. But being a monument comes with a price. Reverence precludes humor, and statues of founding fathers rarely wear smiles.

As K T Sullivan reveals in her Kern show, “All the Things You Are,” at the Oak Room of the Algonquin Hotel, however, there is a lot more to him than stately ballads. The early, half-forgotten Kern of the Princess Theater musicals composed between 1915 and 1920 was a playful scamp, especially in collaborations with P. G. Wodehouse. The hilarious, dirty-minded “Cleopatterer” (from the 1917 show “Leave It to Jane”), which imagines the prolific sex life of Cleopatra, might even be seen as an early-20th-century prototype of rap. And Ms. Sullivan delivered it on Thursday with a tongue-in-cheek sense of merriment.

The whimsical titles of other obscure Kern songs with lyrics by Wodehouse — “A Bungalow in Quogue” from “The Riviera Girl” and “Nesting Time in Flatbush” from “Oh, Boy!” — speak for themselves. They’re funny, irreverent and delightfully unserious. It wasn’t until “Show Boat” in 1927 that Kern’s grand style flowered.

Ms. Sullivan, who is accompanied by Tedd Firth on piano, Andy Farber on reeds and Steve Doyle on bass, has a fluttery, semioperatic soprano that gives Kern’s most famous melodies their due. But her primary goal on Thursday was to bring his songs down to earth without damaging them. In a bitter, fast-paced “Can’t Help Lovin’ Dat Man,” an attitude of disgust replaced the usual masochistic self-pity. Her version of “Ol’ Man River” (the first soprano rendition I’ve ever heard) suggested the lament of a hard-working prostitute plying her trade on the Mississippi.

The pairing of “A Fine Romance” and “All in Fun” made no bones about the sexual frustration of an untouched woman squired by an attractive but disinterested walker. A similar frustration pervaded “Life Upon the Wicked Stage,” in which Oscar Hammerstein’s lyric declares that life is tough for women in show business.

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