THE NEW YORK TIMES

‘Another Hundred People’ Digs Into
Stephen Sondheim’s Catalog

Sunday, July 19, 2015 by Stephen Holden

“Another Hundred People,” a thrilling new revue at the Laurie Beechman Theater, is the most dramatic example I can remember of how a crash course in the songs of Stephen Sondheim can transform entertainers you thought you knew into beings far more complex and sophisticated than you ever suspected. As its stars, KT Sullivan and Jeff Harnar, dug into Mr. Sondheim’s catalog, it was as though they had suddenly grown up.

The revue is the much more adventurous sequel to the team’s warmly received show “Our Time,” which opened almost exactly a year ago in the same space. Subtitled “Act Two” and incorporating almost no patter, the show, acutely directed by Sondra Lee, is devoid of the sort of ingratiating shtick associated with its stars, both die-hard nostalgists who have built cabaret careers celebrating the American songbook.

For years Mr. Harnar, now in his mid-50s, epitomized the boyish juvenile lead of the sort once played by Robert Morse. Ms. Sullivan’s characteristic alter ego has been a zany glamour girl with a light operatic voice. In “Another Hundred People” she abandons that voice, the better to interpret psychologically knotty Sondheim lyrics with a ruthless honesty.

The musical director, the pianist Jon Weber, connected the songs in fleet arrangements that incorporated a light jazz pulse and allusions to Dave Brubeck.

Like “Our Time,” “Another Hundred People” slyly revels in sexual ambiguity and in dissolving gender stereotypes, with both performers singing numbers associated with the opposite sex. The first jolt arrived with Mr. Harnar’s licentious interpretation of “I Know Things Now,” Little Red Riding Hood’s song from “Into the Woods,” reimagined as a young man’s gay initiation. Attached to “More,” from the movie “Dick Tracy,” the song hinted at sexual addiction and predation.

Throughout the show, carefully edited fragments from as many as four of five songs in a block were sequenced into conceptual threads in which each selection threw light on the one before. In an especially evocative pairing, Ms. Sullivan’s version of “The Girls of Summer” was wound around Mr. Harnar’s version of “Sand,” a little-known song from an unproduced film musical, “Singing Out Loud.”

The loss of innocence and cherished romantic illusions were overarching themes reflected in both the song choices and the singers’ dry-eyed interpretations of numbers like “Now You Know” and “There Won’t Be Trumpets.” Perhaps the boldest pairing found the sweetly compassionate parental advice song “Children Will Listen” attached to the gory “The Ballad of Sweeney Todd.”


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KT SULLIVAN and JEFF HARNAR Are Beguiling and Theatrical In Their Second Sondheim Songbook Show at the Laurie Beechman

July 17, 2015 by Alix Cohen

I could tell you that KT Sullivan and Jeff Harnar have done it again, but the truth is that they've done it even better. Their first foray into the Stephen Sondheim songbook last summer, Our Time, consisted of she sings, he sings--each watching the other perform then offering duets. This iteration titled Another Hundred People: Sullivan and Harnar Sing Sondheim-Act Two (both at the Laurie Beechman Theatre), beautifully directed by Sondra Lee, considers both characters theatrically, not just vocally, but visually.

Sullivan and Harnar pass and circle, but only selectively relate. Moments of bonhomie are jauntily displayed with back-to-front music hall perambulating. Numbers partially sung from the audience are well chosen. (Wait till you see mischievous Harnar drape himself against successive available walls.) Even the way each performer sits relates to lyrics.

The duo covers 40 Sondheim songs, the majority of which are grouped together, describing emotional themes, and are often bridged with alliteration or lyric similarity. For example, Sullivan's "The Girls of Summer" (from the 1956 show of the same name), during which her eyes close while head and shoulders luxuriate in the heat, in tandem with Harnar's "Sand" (from the unproduced 1992 movie musical Singing Out Loud) conjures a beach both real and metaphoric: Love is just sssand/Slippery but clinging/Love is just sssand/Stir it and it flies . . . .

Or the seemingly organic sequence of Sullivan's heart-in-her-throat "No One Has Ever Loved Me" (Passion), equal parts suspicion, wonder, and gratitude; her tremulous "With So Little to Be Sure Of" (Anyone Can Whistle) and "So Many People" (Saturday Night): And if they tell us/It's a thing we'll outgrow--she shakes her head and smiles--They're jealous as they can be/That with so many people/ In the world/You love me . . .

Or Harnar's "Now You Know" (Merrily We Roll Along) performed sitting backwards on a chair as if dispensing wisdom, his eyebrows forming a tent, brimming with sincerity: I mean, big surprise/People love you and tell you lies/Bricks can fall out of clear blue skies . . . which segues into the tender, protective "Not While I'm Around" (Sweeney Todd), a promise made credible by the vocalist's hushed ardor.

As Sullivan sings "Like It Was" and a touching "Good Thing Going" (We had a good thing going/Going, gone . . .), Harnar is across the stage, back to us. He turns and with "Not a Day Goes By" responds not to her but, out of his own isolation, to the situation: Not a day goes by/Not a single day/But you're somewhere a part of my life/And it looks like you'll stay . . . .The vocalist moves seamlessly from heartsick choke to full musical ardor. (All three songs from the 1981 musical Merrily We Roll Along.)

As in their Sondheim Act I, sexual roles are blatantly switched. For most of the evening, both performers sing to "him." Harnar's "Live Alone and Like It" (from the 1990 film Dick Tracy) with ragtime overtones and throw-away charm and his highly perplexed "You Could Drive a Person Crazy" (Side by Side) work beautifully with this approach. I had trouble, however, making the gender leap to Sullivan's Follies originated "Waiting for the Girls Upstairs," "Beautiful Girls," and "Buddy's Blues." (Gleeful W.C. Fields inflection and crisp, wry, two-character depictions in the latter were deft.)

Except that it's rather too much of a good thing, there were few unsuccessful numbers in Another Hundred People: Harnar's "The Ballad of Sweeney Todd" rides on such a slick, jazz accompaniment, it sounds like the declawed television theme to a generic detective series. Sullivan's "No More" (Into the Woods) is so stressed her facial expressions are exaggerated. The emphatic mood bleeds into the angriest interpretation of "There Won't Be Trumpets" (from Anyone Can Whistle) I've ever heard.

Between the last songs and finale, our cast briefly leaves the stage. Musical Director/pianist, genre-bending Jon Weber plays and sings such a subdued version of "Broadway Baby" (Follies) it could be a soft shoe. Uninvited, most of the audience quietly sings along creating a real New York moment. Sullivan and Harnar then solo from the audience--she kewpie doll, he deadpan--for all the world like musical theater characters.

Both artists are effectively low key, channeling feelings into persuasive, controlled vocals, ever aware of original context too often jettisoned by those less seasoned. By this, I don't mean casual, but rather using emotional muscle memory to disarm, instead of volume or acting out. The duo's amiable complicity grows with every collaboration. Harmony finds familiar footing. Warmth pervades.

The show ends with "How Do I Know" from a 1945 musical called By George that 15 year-old Stephen Sondheim wrote while at George School and "showed to Oscar (Hammerstein) the fateful afternoon I began to take myself seriously." Nicely punctuated.


THEATER PIZZAZZ!

Another Hundred People — KT Sullivan & Jeff Harnar sing “Sondheim: Act II”

July 11, 2015 by Joe Regan Jr.

About a year ago KT Sullivan and Jeff Harnar performed an acclaimed Steven Sondheim show. Now Sullivan and Harnar are doing Another Hundred People, Sondheim: ACT II at the Laurie Beechman. The musical director and vocal collaborator on this show is Jon Weber and it’s directed by Sondra Lee.

What is remarkable about Harnar and Sullivan is that for all the years they have been doing cabaret—in their own shows or together—their vocal power has not diminished one bit. In fact, their voices are more powerful than ever, and their physical appearance belies that they may have found some Dorian Grey portraits, for they are both so youthful looking. “Sondheim: Act II” is built upon narrative links of different songs, not necessarily from the same Sondheim shows but making emotional and logical sense. There is absolutely no patter in the show, with the songs blending into each other, many sung in unfamiliar tempos (e.g. “Another Hundred People” is sung in a very slow tempo which lends a sadness to those lyrics).

The show actually begins with Weber doing a rip roaring instrumental of “Comedy Tonight,” then Sullivan comes up from the back of the room in a beautiful, pale pantsuit, and rhinestones in her hair; then, without pause sings “Barcelona” very slowly and regretfully against Weber’s “Bobby” part. When Sullivan and Harnar sing together there are several songs from “Bounce” which meld into “It Takes Two” and “Side by Side by Side.” During the show one becomes aware what powerful actors they are, never striking a false emotional note. Harnar demonstrates this so well in his versions of “No One Has Ever Loved Me,” “With So Little To Be Sure Of,” and “So Many People.” Sullivan, who is singing at her best ever, makes some great choices. When she sings a rueful “Going Going Gone,” we know her beautiful soprano can hit that last lyric “gone” with a full high note, but she chooses to sing it as a hushed sigh, which makes it even more effective. She also chooses not to sing “Every Day A Little Death” comically, but as a sad, rueful, tear-inducing song. She switches to a male role, singing all the parts of the comical “Buddy’s Blues” without changing the lyrics! Baby-faced Harnar goes full demon and maniac in his frightening attack on “The Ballad of Sweeney Todd.”

I am not going to list all forty selections but many of them are unfamiliar or discarded songs, and many of them are sung in unfamiliar tempos, which makes the lyrics even more effective. We even get the first song Sondheim ever, “How Do I Know,” which he wrote as a student for his mentor, Oscar Hammerstein. Towards the end, when the duo performs “Our Time” they hobble forward on invisible crutches, a touch Sullivan stated that Lee suggested. By the way, the lighting and sound by Abby Judd are perfection, despite a run-through only an hour before.