KT Sullivan & Mark Nadler


April 3, 2006


Rex Reed


All’s Swell


I can think of no better way to usher in the badly needed first embrace of spring than a splash of Cole Porter, and KT Sullivan and Mark Nadler have both faucets wide open. In their delightful new cabaret act at the Algonquin’s Oak Room, they’ve got the subject well covered. They call it “A Swell Party!” and you’ve still got until April 1 to RSVP.


One thing this show does is remind us what a devil Mr. Porter was. The lyrics are often quite naughty (“Let’s Do It” never sounded so double-entendre). When the mischievous pianist-singer-arranger-comic Mark Nadler tackles them, every line is a punch line. Then he does an about face and sings “You’ve Got That Thing” in a slow, sensual and suggestive tempo that is almost lascivious. Versatility is the key. KT Sullivan, usually a bubbly cross between Lillian Russell and Lorelei Lee, manages, in this outing, to blend the emotional content of “So in Love” with the arc of theme and melody on “Get Out of Town,” giving happiness new meaning.


Some other subtle changes in their patter, delivery and timing pay handsome dividends: Though never less than entertaining, they have in past performances sometimes been verbose and overly descriptive with the biographical material, talking at the same time like the maddening sound track from a Robert Altman movie. This time, they wisely dissolve the segues between songs and dispense with the unnecessary details of Cole Porter’s life. It’s the songs that count. Without sacrificing an iota of subtlety or imagination, less chatter leaves more time for music, and there is plenty of it, with the excellent bass player John Loehrke and the dreamy saxophone of Loren Schoenberg lending vibrant support.


From the insatiable lusts of “Kate the Great” to a Paris medley with “After You, Who?” in French, this duo is out to dazzle. She has joie de vivre; he has verve and sheen. I like the antic Danny Kaye side of Mr. Nadler, but when he explores the minor keys of songs like “I Love Paris,” or idealistically feels his way through an obscure Porter masterpiece like “Wake Up and Dream,” the softer, warmer side of his voice becomes a most appealing counterpart to his usual antics.


What a swellegant, elegant party this is, and KT Sullivan and Mark Nadler are the perfect hosts. They may end the show with “Just One of Those Things,” but don’t believe it. You’re in for much, much more.