An Actress Behind a Facade of Kewpie-Doll Naivete
By Stephen Holden
Whimsy is not a quality one normally associates with the music of Richard Rodgers. But in her effervescent new cabaret show, which plays through July 21 at the Firebird Cafe, KT Sullivan presents his songs as a series of sidelong flashes that suggest a wise child playing a sophisticated game of peek-a-boo. Take her version of the song we all know as ''Blue Moon.'' Ms. Sullivan has dug up an earlier lyric by Lorenz Hart written for the tune that was written but cut from an early movie musical. In its original incarnation it was called ''Prayer'' and includes the couplet, ''Oh Lord, if I'm not going too far/ Be nice, and make me a star.'' This version happens to have been written for Jean Harlow, who was cut from the movie along with the song. When Ms. Sullivan performs it, folding her hands and casting her saucer eyes heavenward, she becomes a cheeky latter-day Harlow filtered through Marilyn Monroe. In a similar comic spirit, she sings ''Lover'' as a cantering waltz, lightly spoofing Jeanette MacDonald's original version, which, Ms. Sullivan tells us, was sung to a horse. During this galloping jaunt, she interpolates artful little whinnies.
Although Ms. Sullivan, who is accompanied by Larry Woodard on piano and Jay Leonhart on bass, brings an air of slightly breathless wonderment to most of the material, behind her faux kewpie-doll naivete is a shrewd acting talent. She infuses ''The Gentleman Is a Dope'' with a prickly anger and gets so deeply into the mind of the bored, footsore narrator of ''10 Cents a Dance'' you can feel her moment-by-moment mood swings.
Ms. Sullivan also has a real voice: a brittle, fluttery, semi-operatic soprano.
When she reins in the whimsy and sings a Rodgers ballad like ''The Sweetest Sounds,'' the sound she makes is sweet, with the tiniest dash of vinegar.