March 18, 2003
In Performance
By Stephen Holden

Sneak Attacks Above the Chimney Tops

KT Sullivan
Algonquin Hotel

To watch the singer KT Sullivan and her pianist and vocal partner, Larry Woodard, perform the music of Harold Arlen is to discover how a light touch applied to heavyweight songs (like "Stormy Weather," "Over the Rainbow" and "Last Night When We Were Young," to name three) can open them up in a way that a more conventionally stentorian approach rarely does.

Ms. Sullivan, a natural comedian, has refined an amusing parody of the flighty, wispy-voiced "dumb blonde" as resplendent as a wedding cake as she jiggles her way through life.

If that image seems at odds with the music of Arlen, the composer whose sweeping blues-flavored laments have fueled the careers of Lena Horne, Judy Garland, Barbra Streisand and Audra McDonald, it's really an artful sham. The role enables Ms. Sullivan to conduct sly sneak attacks on the songs that reveal them in a fresh light. When this supposedly dizzy dame puts a smart, witty spin on "If I Only Had a Brain," the joke resonates. And Mr. Woodard, with his jolly, deceptively offhand support contributes to the mood of playful intimacy.

The show, "Let's Fall in Love," which runs through April 12 at the Oak Room of the Algonquin Hotel (59 West 44th Street, Manhattan), has the feel of a personalized guided tour by two longtime chums, both old hands at the game. The stories of Arlen, a cantor's son from Buffalo, and such lyric collaborators as E. Y. Harburg and Ira Gershwin have been compacted into witty anecdotal bonbons, most of them taken from Edward Jablonski's biography of Arlen.

The music is what counts the most of course. And Ms. Sullivan's renditions of "It's a New World" (the beautiful, overlooked ballad from "A Star Is Born"), the regretful "Last Night When We Were Young," and the jauntily self-mocking "Fun to Be Fooled" convey a rare balance of insight and lighthearted pleasure.

By William Wolf

"Let's Fall in Love," KT Sullivan's new show in the Oak Room of the Algonquin Hotel, is a class act. Looking radiant, Sullivan exudes charm that adds to her lovely singing voice, and pairing her with Larry Woodard at the piano and doing some singing of his own is a happy idea. They give off warm vibes in their collaboration, which makes for extra audience appeal. The favored composer on which the show focuses is Harold Arlen.

Sullivan is very adept at imparting information about Arlen, the songs chosen and his various collaborators. She has a way of giving us information without being excessive, and she gives every impression that she is having a wonderful time interacting with her audience. Sullivan commands such attention that ultimate quiet prevails. At least that was the case when I attended.

Woodard also gets his chance at anecdotal information. Sullivan leaves it to him to sing "Stormy Weather," which he prefaces by recounting prejudice his father told him about encountering while in the army. African-American soldiers in his unit were forbidden to have a pin-up photo of Betty Grable on the wall. No white pin-ups for black GIs. Woodard's father, a major influence in pointing him toward singing and the piano, had him learn "Stormy Weather," as sung by his own "pin-up," Lena Horne. Woodard delivers it exquisitely.

I have enjoyed hearing Sullivan on many occasions, and this time she is in particularly splendid form, doing justice to such numbers as "Just a Thing Called Joe," "A Woman's Prerogative," "It Was Good Enough for Grandma," "Let's Fall Love," and many more. In short, this is a winning helping of cabaret in a stylish New York setting. Through April 12 at the Oak Room, Algonquin Hotel, 59 West 44th Street. Phone: 212-419-9331.

By Peter Haas

Start with the artistry of Arlen -- his rich melodies, with their roots in cantorial music and blues riffs. Add wise and warm lyrics by such collaborators as Johnny Mercer, "Yip" Harburg, Ira Gershwin, Truman Capote, and the lesser-known Ted Koehler. Blend these songs with the style, sophistication and elegant musical teamwork of KT Sullivan and Larry Woodard, and you are reminded what truly entertaining, top-taste cabaret is all about.

In a generous hour-plus show, KT, with her sparkling soprano and fluid phrasing, was relaxed and assured. She segued smoothly between romantic ballads ( "Come Rain or Come Shine," "My Shining Hour"), humor ( "It's a Woman's Prerogative," "If I Only Had a Brain") and Arlen's darker numbers ("Happiness Is Just a Thing Called Joe" and "Stormy Weather"). "Over the Rainbow" and "The Man That Got Away," long identified, of course, with Garland, became freshly moving in her hands. Larry Woodard, a premier performer in his own right, provided expert accompaniment - pianistic and vocal - and shone as well in such strong solos as "I've Got the World on a String," "Come Rain or Come Shine," and a medley from Arlen and Harburg's "Bloomer Girl." Happily, KT and Larry are artists enough to let great songs sing for themselves.