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By Frank Scheck
August 25, 2009

Descending into the subterranean lair that is the Granite Room, it's easy to believe you're entering a time warp. The city's newest nightspot -- underneath the City Hall Restaurant in TriBeCa, in what was once the coal room of a 19th-century shoe factory -- has the look and feel of a Depression-era speakeasy. The ceiling is the underbelly of the sidewalk above, and the dimly lit room is dominated by stone and exposed brick. You keep wondering when the coppers are going to raid the joint. Long and narrow, the space -- unlike the Café Carlyle or the Oak Room -- gives the audience a head-on view of the performer rather than their profile or rear end. Adding to the vintage atmosphere was the canny choice of KT Sullivan as the inaugural act. With her kewpie-doll looks and operatic soprano, she seems to have stepped out of an old movie musical.

Her show, "Everything Old Is New Again," consists entirely of songs written in 1929 or earlier. Including such standards as "Let Me Call You Sweetheart" and "Shine on Harvest Moon"; relative obscurities (Cole Porter's hilarious "Tale of an Oyster," cut from his musical "50 Million Frenchmen," and selections from such operettas as "The Merry Widow" and "Die Fledermaus," the songs provoke a nostalgic swoon even in those who weren't yet born when they were written. Best of all, Sullivan, accompanied by superb pianist Jon Weber, performed most of the evening without a microphone, which only enhanced the crystalline beauty of her voice. She resorted to miking only once, when she wandered the room singing a wonderful medley of 29 numbers written in 1929. Clearly, that was a golden year for American popular songwriting.



'Neath the Sidewalks of New York
Kathleen Downey's Granite Room
City Hall Restaurant, NYC

By Peter Leavy
August 20, 2009

There’s a new cabaret supper club in downtown New York that, with luck, may become a regular fixture. An impressively decorated boîte downstairs at the long-established City Hall Restaurant, the Granite Room’s small stage, its polished wood bar and stone walls evoke thoughts of upscale basement speakeasies where black-tied gents and their ladies sought late night pleasures and forbidden drinks. Except that the elegant surroundings are a more recent refurbishing, it might even have been one, since the building housing it has been there since 1863.

Inaugurating the room as a new showplace, KT Sullivan created a program appropriately nostalgic, with songs first sung in the nineteenth century to some as modern as 1929. Sullivan’s musical sleight of hand, her ability to shift from opera to ballads to comic material and do it effortlessly always is one of KT’s impressive attributes. A surprising aspect of the hour-plus show was the enduring familiarity of Sullivan’s oft century-old songs. Her opener and title song, “(East Side, West Side) the Sidewalks of New York,” was from 1894. “I’ll Take You Home Again, Kathleen,” “A Bicycle Built for Two,” and “The Man on the Flying Trapeze” all were popular before the turn of the century in 1900.

A consummate performer, Sullivan traversed the room as she sang, usually without a microphone and keeping her audience virtually transfixed as she ran through a song list of more than four dozen numbers, albeit some offered only as tidbits. Only modesty might have kept her from introducing the show’s highlight with “You won’t get anything like this elsewhere, folks,” as she launched a medley of twenty-nine numbers, all from the year 1929. “29 from 29,” she called it. Once again, it was startling to realize that so many still-popular tunes were celebrating an eightieth birthday. “Singin’ in the Rain,” “You Do Something to Me,” “Honeysuckle Rose,” “More Than You Know,“ “(There’s Gonna Be a) Great Day” and two dozen others.

Jon Weber, Sullivan’s proficient accompanist, kept things moving at a measured pace as he shifted mood and style to suit the songs. In a delightful dividend for the audience, Weber, a highly regarded musician and recording artist in his own right, played during the dinner preceding the show.

If this inaugural show is a bellwether of what’s to come, Kathleen Downey’s Granite Room will be a grand addition to New York’s cabaret and nightlife scene.

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