In one of her most ambitious programs to date, KT Sullivan gave a sparkling opening night performance in her current show invitingly titled “Rhyme, Women and Song” at the Oak Room of the Algonquin Hotel (May 3-28, 2011). It’s a concept that’s obviously dear to her heart and to her sense of musical history that merits a tribute to women who have been among our foremost songsmiths.
Time and again Sullivan has proved what an effective cabaret performer she is, and with this latest outing she is at the top of her game. She looks great on stage and entertains with confidence as she mixes a variety of numbers from wistful romanticism to playful comedy. Her voice is in great form, but beyond the pleasure she provides to audiences listening to her lovely tones, she is a singer who can provide a nifty touch with a lyric built for laughs. In addition, she is adept at charmingly dispensing background information on composers and their songs.
Her style and timing are other qualities. Early in her opening show, she sang “The Best is Yet To Come,” the 1959 number with words by Carolyn Leigh to Cy Coleman’s music. At the very end she delivered a knockout punch by heartily repeating the title, which one could also take as a prediction of what was ahead for the evening.
Carolyn Leigh is obviously one of her favorites. Sullivan sang a beautiful rendition of “It Amazes Me” (music by Coleman), which was originally introduced by Mabel Mercer. She also chose as part of a medley the Leigh-Coleman “On the Other Side of the Tracks” from the show “Little Me.”
Pleasurable musical backing is being provided by Jon Weber at the piano, who is also Sullivan’s musical director and aranger, and by John Weber on bass.
Dorothy Fields is another whom Sullivan singled out for tribute, as with “On the Sunny Side of the Street” (music by Jimmy McHugh), and in an encore number “The Way You Look Tonight” (music by Jerome Kern). The words of Fields gave Sullivan a golden opportunity to show just how funny she can be with a cutesy voice applied to “Please Don’t Send Me Down a Baby Brother” (music by Arthur Schwartz) from the show “By the Beautiful Sea.”
And speaking of the lighter touch, Sullivan also had fun with the frantic “I Can Cook Too” (music by Leonard Bernstein), with lyrics by Betty Comden and Adolph Green, from the show “On the Town.”
The switching back and forth between tenderness and playfulness gave the performance appealing variety. There was sheer beauty to the way she sang “How Am I to Know?” (music by Jack King, words by Dorothy Parker). Earlier, she mined humor with some Spanish tossed in as she sang “The Boy From….” (music by Mary Rodgers, words by Stephen Sondheim).
Other women whose songwriting she highlighted included Kay Swift, Carol Hall, Irene Hickinbotham, Marilyn Bergman, Maria Grover, Peggy Lee, Amanda McBroom, Vivien Wolsk, Joni Mitchell, Edna B, Pinkard and Carole King.
There was an extra kick with Hickinbotham’s “Good Morning Heartache,” for which she wrote the music with Dan Fisher. The lyricist, Ervin Drake, was in the audience.
Sullivan closed the show with a major feat, a medley of 29 songs. Why 29? Because that’s her age, she kidded. Her first encore number was “Will You Love Me Tomorrow?” (music by Carole King, words by Gerry Goffin). The answer is definitely yes, KT. You are certainly making this a merry month of May. At the Oak Room, Algonquin Hotel, 59 West 44th Street. Reservations: 2122-419-9331 or firstname.lastname@example.org.