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Respectful Heirs Together Invoking Playful Spirits

KT Sullivan and Larry Woodard at Laurie Beechman Theater

By Stephen Holden
The New York Times
June 21, 2012

When KT Sullivan swept onto the stage of the Laurie Beechman Theater on Wednesday evening with mischief in her eyes and a swivel in her hips, the image of Mae West flashed in my mind. Like West, Ms. Sullivan is voluptuous, blond and funny — and ageless. But Ms. Sullivan has a softer edge. Overt carnality is smothered in soap bubbles. Widening her saucer eyes and wearing a half-smile, a zany hat tilted just so, she projected an ebullient va-va-voom that camouflaged the vigilance of a performer on whom nothing is lost.

The show, “Glamorous Summer Nights,” reunited Ms. Sullivan with her sometime nightclub partner, the pianist and singer Larry Woodard heir of Bobby Short but with classical leanings. They displayed an easygoing chemistry.

As West retreated into the background, the spirits of Ethel Merman, Kitty Carlisle Hart, Mabel Mercer and Betty Boop strutted forward. Mr. Woodard added Sammy Davis Jr. to the roster with his pensive performance of “Night Song,” a little-known ballad from the 1964 musical “Golden Boy.”

As much as the program honored show-business traditions, it celebrated the camaraderie of two cabaret troupers who “get” each other in a very deep way. If their two-part harmonies sometimes wavered, their mutual affection overrode the technical glitches. They became archetypal showbiz, jouncing side by side on the bumpy highway of life.

One astute song pairing connected “My Husband’s First Wife,” a bitingly witty Jerome Kern-Irene Franklin number from “Sweet Adeline” in which a second wife complains bitterly about her husband’s continuing worship of her sainted predecessor, with “You Must Meet My Wife,” from “A Little Night Music.” In two vintage songs about gigolos, Mr. Woodard evoked a quaint, bittersweet vision of the world’s oldest profession as practiced by heterosexual male gold diggers in a more restrained era.

The ace in the hole was the show’s light operatic component. Ms. Sullivan sang songs from “The Merry Widow” and “The Student Prince” in a sweet airy soprano. Operetta is so frilly that when heard out of context nowadays it often feels like comedy, even if it doesn’t mean to. Ms. Sullivan found a lovely balance between amusement and sentimentality.

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