NEW YORK TIMES
NEW YORK TIMES
Woman for All Seasons, Ballads and Emotions
By STEPHEN HOLDEN
May 10, 2011
One of the pleasures of cabaret reviewing over the long haul has been to observe the evolution of K T Sullivan from an effervescent musical comedian into the increasingly fearless and complex singing character actor she is today. Her new show, which opened at the Oak Room of the Algonquin Hotel last week, is called “Rhyme, Women and Song,” but it might just as well be titled “The Seven Ages of Woman,” for all the musical and emotional territory she covers.
This is not to say that Ms. Sullivan has sacrificed the charm of her original comic persona — a voluptuous, eye-batting Lorelei Lee type — to plunge into doom and gloom. Not at all. It is to say that beneath the glittery icing, as Luther Vandross once said of Diana Ross, lies “a serious cake.”
All the songs in “Rhyme, Women and Song” are written in whole or in part by women. Dorothy Fields, Carolyn Leigh, Kay Swift, Betty Comden, Dorothy Parker, Marilyn Bergman and Joni Mitchell are some of them. Accompanying Ms. Sullivan at the Oak Room are two (unrelated) musicians with almost identical names: Jon Weber, on piano, and John Webber, on bass, who give several numbers a solid jazz kick.
The changes in style and mood from song to song are so quick that at times “Rhyme, Women and Song” suggests a sequence of lightning-fast blackout sketches. But there is a rough through line under it all. Early in the show a medley of “Don’t Let a Good Thing Get Away,” “The Best Is Yet to Come,” “On the Sunny Side of the Street” and “The Other Side of the Tracks” becomes a suite about a woman’s determined upward mobility in which Ms. Sullivan doesn’t disguise the connections between romantic aspiration and material calculation.
She puts her stamp on a jazzy arrangement of Ms. Mitchell’s “Case of You,” by giving the words “still be on my feet” a defiant emphasis. Two little-known ballads, “How Am I to Know?” (lyrics by Parker, music by Jack King) and “He’ll Make Me Believe That He’s Mine” (music by Paul Horner, lyrics by Peggy Lee, from the 1983 musical “Peg”), are exquisitely crooned. Where once Ms. Sullivan might have raised an eyebrow while singing these ballads of abject surrender, she ventures all the way inside their treacherous dream worlds.
For “Please Don’t Send Me Down a Baby Brother” she adopts the voice of a stubborn, willful little child, and for “I Can Cook Too” she becomes a tough, swaggering go-getter. She locates the desperation inside the housewife subsisting on tabloid fantasies in Amanda McBroom’s “Dreaming.” In the end Ms. Sullivan’s natural ebullience and perfect comic timing transport you to a blissful plateau.