KT Sullivan performs Rhyme, Women and Song at the Crazy Coqs, London until 2 November.
If there’s anything better than having KT Sullivan in London for a week, it’s having that delicious Oklahoma songbird here for two.
Following her Vienna to Weimar show alongside Karen Kohler in the London Festival of Cabaret series at the Crazy Coqs last week, she has come back solo for Rhyme, Women and Song, a programme devoted to the feminine touch on Broadway and beyond, from Dorothy Fields, Carolyn Leigh, Betty Comden and Kay Swift to Marilyn Bergman, Joni Mitchell and Carole King.
Well, not quite solo, for there were ten magical minutes when she called up her songwriter-singer-pianist-poet mother Elizabeth to share the stage with her, and it was a special moment when the pair sang together mama’s signature song ‘As Long As We Sing’, and the powerful voice of the still-beautiful 83-year-old was something to hear.
As well as being much in demand as a cabaret performer, KT Sullivan is the artistic director of the annual Mabel Mercer Cabaret Convention these days, a four-day orgy of the Great American Songbook which has just finished in New York and if anyone knows how to put an act together, she surely does.
Trained for opera in Italy and California as a colaratura soprano, she had her career path changed by listening to the great Barbara Cook perform and operetta’s loss has been very much cabaret’s gain.
The playful Sullivan can do saucy with the best of them – the Mary Rodgers-Stephen Sondheim collaboration for that hilarious spoof ‘The Boy From…’ they wrote for The Mad Show in 1966, the 1944 Betty Comden/Adolph Green lyrics to Bernstein’s music for the classic ‘I Can Cook Too’, and ‘Kitchen Man’, a racy song made famous by Bessie Smith – but is equally at home with the soulful and the serious.
The high spot for me (and many in the first-night audience judging from the reception they gave it) was her spot-on interpretation of the plaintive ‘Dreaming’ by the incomparable Amanda McBroom, in which a lady with a humdrum life kids herself into imagining a better life than she will never know.
Versatile and pitch-perfect, she can switch key and mood in mid-stream as she demonstrated in the snippets from 29 songs she put together in a closing medley of all the female songwriters she couldn’t fit into the remainder of the show.
Kicking off with some titillating history of 1920s songwriter Kay Swift’s affair with George Gershwin and her marriage to banker-lyricist Paul James which produced such collaborative gems as ‘Can’t We Be Friends?’, Sullivan has all the patter to go with the songs that a true cabaret artist must have.
It is all very well singing ‘I Wished On the Moon’ which the iconic Dorothy Parker wrote to Ralph Rainger’s music but to embellish it with the story of how, when challenged to come up with a witty ditty using the word horticulture, the sharp-as-a-pin Parker produced “you can lead a whore-to-culture but you can’t make her think” turns a good song into an unforgettable one.
Greatly helped by Jed Distler on piano, Sullivan is a force of nature who knows all the tricks of trade and it would be rude not to pay her a visit while she is in town.
Another fabulous evening at the ever-more-fabulous Crazy Coqs. Go and give yourself a treat.
If you liked this, check out other London Festival of Cabaret reviews: