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KT Sullivan: Rhyme, Women and Song

The popular cabaret singer's appealing new show at the Algonquin Hotel's Oak Room celebrates women songwriters. logo
KT Sullivan
In KT Sullivan's appealing new show, Rhyme, Women and Song, now at the Oak Room at the Algonquin Hotel, one of cabaret's favorite bubbly blondes sings only material for which women wrote either lyrics, composed music or supplied both -- and offers some definitive versions of these songs in the process.

One anointed number is Amanda McBroom's "Dreaming," during which a woman singing confidently about her appeal slowly loses her composure and reveals someone whose life is so conventional she must imagine that she's inhabiting other lives. Later, sitting on the piano, Sullivan offers up Joni Mitchell's "A Case of You" and, right before ringsiders' eyes, transforms her usually bright-eyed and buoyant self into a usually clear-eyed woman questioning the current love of her life and quietly inebriated by him.

Through the remainder of the show, Sullivan scores numerous times. She has great fun with "I Can Cook, Too," presents a baby-voiced "Please Don't Send Me Down a Baby Brother," becomes lovingly serious on "How Am I to Know?" and "It Amazes Me," and gives lush dramatic weight to "Good Morning Heartache" and "Where Do You Start?"

Fortunately, the pitch kinks that sometimes mar her delivery are pretty much under control, and she also benefits from the work of bassist John Webber and her pianist, the creative Jon Weber. Sullivan's easy way in the room is also at hand, which is another of the evening's big plusses.

Not everything goes off dry-martini-smooth, however. Setting aside as opening-night nerves the lyrics she either stumbled over or missed, there's a larger question concerning the manner in which she pursues her theme. In order to demonstrate the triumphant facility women have with songwriting, she's decided to recall as many 20th-century standards boasting distaff craftsmanship as she can, and succeeds -- in a bit over an hour -- at getting around to no fewer than 53, many of which she necessarily includes in medleys.

Too often, though, these medleys are made up of truncated parts and end as frustrating teases, particularly Sullivan's monumental before-closing foray of 29 songs. One wonders if Sullivan realizes how less-than-satisfying it can be for audiences when such songs as Ann Ronell's "Willow Weep for Me," Fran Landesman's brilliant "Ballad of the Sad Young Men," Joni Mitchell's "Clouds," Carolyn Leigh's "Young at Heart," Dorothy Fields' "Don't Blame Me" and several other revered items are dangled before a song lover's ears and then whipped away.

Having obviously spent much preparation time on this show, Sullivan must have some thoughts about what, if anything, women bring to the songwriting art differently from men. Maybe the answer is nothing, but one wishes she might have said something about that intriguing proposition.

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