The Story of a Creative Duo, Told Through Their Songs

March 27, 2007
In Performance
By Stephen Holden

Life would be a snap if you followed some basic musical comedy advice. Make someone else happy, and you will be happy too. Remember that every day comes once in a lifetime, so make the most of every day; and so on and so forth.

Those useful tips are embedded in the song lyrics of Betty Comden and Adolph Green, the dearly beloved team to whom Mark Nadler and K T Sullivan pay affectionate tribute in their effervescent cabaret show “Make Someone Happy.” According to Mr. Nadler and Ms. Sullivan, Comden and Green were hard workers who met every day for 60 years.

This shiny soap bubble of a show, which plays at the Oak Room of the Algonquin Hotel, isn’t an ordinary anthology. Twenty songs with Comden and Green lyrics are ingeniously woven with bits of dialogue from six of their screenplays — “The Barkleys of Broadway,” “On the Town,” “Singin’ in the Rain,” “The Band Wagon,” “It’s Always Fair Weather” and “Bells Are Ringing” — into a nonsensical pastiche that beneath its scatterbrained surface must have entailed some serious archival scholarship.

Mr. Nadler, a hyperkinetic piano man, and Ms. Sullivan, an eternal kewpie doll with a sly sense of humor and a real voice, plunge into it with the verve of a latter-day Mickey and Judy. What they have created is a savvy, witty distillation of musical comedy’s golden age of optimistic escape.

The versatility of a Comden and Green lyric can be illustrated by the transformation of “Never Met a Man I Didn’t Like” (from “The Will Rogers Follies”) from a friendly assertion of belief in people, constructed around Rogers’s motto, into a sultry bump-and-grind for Ms. Sullivan to sing while twirling a black feather boa.

But the real showstopper, “Catch Our Act at the Met” (from “Two on the Aisle”), with music by Jule Styne, is an operatic spoof that drops names like “Dickie” Wagner and “Jake” Puccini. “Faust” is also a strand of the silly plot that sends this Mickey and Judy to Coney Island. Highbrow or lowbrow, it’s all the same in musical-comedy never-never land, where happy endings rule.

“Make Someone Happy” runs through April 14 at the Oak Room of the Algonquin Hotel, 59 West 44th Street, Manhattan; (212) 419-9331.

By Peter Haas
March 20, 2007

One long-running creative partnership is giving tribute to another as KT Sullivan and Mark Nadler - who have presented musical salutes to songwriters Dorothy Fields, Cole Porter, Irving Berlin, Stephen Sondheim and others - now turn their spotlight-with-song on Betty Comden and Adolph Green. It was Comden and Green who created the lyrics and/or book for On The Town, Wonderful Town, Bells Are Ringing, Peter Pan and, for films, Singin' In The Rain, The Bandwagon, and more. In an imaginative departure from cabaret's customary march of miscellaneous numbers, Mark and KT have fashioned a fresh mini-musical of their own, borrowing from plots and dialogue of Comden and Green's own film scripts, then wittily weaving dialogue and songs into their new "production." Theater and film-goers will have added fun recognizing the sources.
Nevertheless, as is customary with KT and Mark, it's the music that makes the evening - their solos and duets, their medleys and harmonies, and their continuing surprising, sophisticated exchange of musical ideas, all delivered with their individual sweetness and sense of fun. Go.