When KT Sullivan throws a party, it’s standing room only. Friday night, the Metropolitan Room is abuzz with friends, family, and avid devotees-many in the business. There’s so much animated meeting and greeting, it’s a wonder people finally sit to enjoy the actual show. Fans feel like they’ve hit the motherload even before the lights go down. The show’s title, we’re told, is on loan from Ervin Drake who wrote the original song and is enthusiastically among the audience. (Photo at top, KT Sullivan and Steve Doyle).
Our hostess begins by setting the mood with a wide-eyed rendition of “Everybody’s Doin’ It” (Irving Berlin) and a simple, lovely one of “Darn That Dream” (Jimmy Van Heusen/Eddie DeLange), loosely beribboned in sultry, sibilant ssses. Jon Weber’s symbiotic piano style accompanies. Half way a pristine “The White Cliffs of Dover” (Walter Kent, born in 1911/Nat Burton), KT is joined from the audience by Craig Rubano singing “I’ll Be Home for Christmas.” (Kim Gannon/Walter Kent/Buck Ram).
Craig Rubano and Nancy McGraw
It’s time for the annual “Craig’s List” compilation. We learn, among other things, that 1911 was the birth year of Spike Jones, Ronald Reagan, Jean Harlow, Gypsy Rose Lee, and Tennessee Williams; that Orville Wright remained in the air for nine minutes and 45 seconds, Procter and Gamble introduced Crisco, and Madame Curie won her second Nobel Prize. Rubano offers a classy, casual “I’m Building Up to an Awful Let-Down” (Fred Astaire/Johnny Mercer) and the schmaltzy “Return to Me” (Carmen Lombardo/ Danny Di Minno) with fine accompaniment by Bill Zeffiro. The singer has a slightly sandpaper quality to his full, open baritone making it feel friendly.
Ginger Rogers (July 16, 1911) is paid tribute by the petite Nancy McGraw, who is convinced her heroine was assigned all the songs Fred (Astaire) didn’t want. In the film “Carefree”, for example, Fred sang “Change Partners,” while Ginger’s number was “The Yam.” (Irving Berlin) How many of you remember her song- show of hands? McGraw briefly tells us about Virginia Katherine McMath (Ginger) from vaudeville to stardom, singing several familiar songs. She ends with “But Not for Me,” crediting it to Irving Berlin. It was written by George and Ira Gershwin. Daryl Sherman accompanies.
A very dapper Gregory Moore (Gregory Moore and his Cosmopolitan Orchestra) salutes Buddy Clark (July 26, 2011.) Who?! Apparently a popular singer in the 1930’s, Clark started with Benny Goodman, went on to Your Hit Parade and landed a recording contract. He had great success with Rodgers and Hart’s beautiful “Spring is Here” which Moore ably performs. I will gather stars out of the blue/For you, for you… Moore croons next, illustrating both Clark’s craft and his own. (“For You” Joe Burke/Al Dubin). There’s a slight tremolo in his long notes and something ethereal about the high octaves. Jack Lawrence’s jaunty “Linda” written in honor of his attorney’s six year-old daughter, creates a room of bobbing heads. Little Linda (Eastman) went on to Marry Paul McCartney. Moore has a warm, personable manner and a velvety voice. Jon Weber accompanies.
Three television themes by Frank Duval (born 1940?) are introduced with wit and played by Jon Weber who seems to know every piece of music there ever was.. The crowd not only guesses all three, My Three Sons, Gidget, and The Brady Bunch! (1969-1974), they sing along with the third.
Jenna Esposito opens with “Hey Look Me Over” from the 1960 musical Wildcat (Carolyn Leigh/Cy Coleman) starring her honoree, Lucille Ball (August 6, 1911.) “Lucy Ricardo would’ve gone crazy to know her real life counterpart made it to Broadway,” she quips. Too true.
The performer has a big, clear, musical theater voice. Her version of the number is infectiously joyful. Deep intake of breath: Did he need a stronger hand?/Did he need a lighter touch? she sings, an affecting catch in her voice. (“If He Walked into My Life” from Jerry Herman’s Mame—1966.) Esposito would stay home from school to watch Lucy reruns never imagining she’d grow up to perform with Lucy’s daughter and get to know her granddaughter. Both her story and personality are engaging.
An idiosyncratic addition to the evening, classical pianist Konstantin Soukhovetski, plays a piece from Der Rosenkavalier/The Night of the Rose (Richard Strauss) which premiered in Dresden, January 1911, followed by some Franz Liszt. His retelling of the opera story is entertainingly colloquial; his playing impassioned and sensitive, rather than sentimental (a frequent trap.) The walls resound.
“Straight off the plane from Colorado,” proverbially cowboy-hatted Tim Sullivan (KT’s brother) celebrates Leonard Franklin Slye, aka Roy Rogers (November 5, 1911). “I’m here to class up the joint,” he laughs breaking into “Tumbling Tumbleweeds” accompanied by his own guitar. (Bob Nolan, one of the founders of the incredibly popular singing group, Sons of the Pioneers). Born in a Cincinnati tenement, Rogers, who started in California as a migrant laborer, went on to record 400 songs, make 80 movies and star in two TV series! An anecdote about his taking a flying jump onto Trigger while singing in the film Hollywood Canteen, (evidently inside the canteen!)is enriched by Sullivan’s easy humor and horse expertise. His vocals are genuine, unembellished, intrinsically elegant, and sweet as all get out.
Raggle taggle response to a request for audience echo on “Cool Water “(Bob Nolan), is more than made up for when Sullivan asks for cued whoops during “Ghost Riders in the Sky” (Stan Jones). He can barely keep us down for rampant enthusiasm. We’re soooo ready to sing-along with Roger’s television theme, “Happy Trails” (his wife, Dale Evans.) Tim Sullivan has manifested one, big, happy campfire. A sophisticated New York cabaret audience is ready to eat beans out of a can (well, maybe not quite that) with this irresistible performer.
1911 wraps up with the most famous song of that year, “Alexander’s Ragtime Band.” (Irving Berlin) rousingly lead by KT Sullivan. No one wants to go home. If I were you, I’d watch for the next centenary celebration with eagle eyes. KT Sullivan really does throw a heck of a party!
Photo Credit: Russ Weatherford
The Metropolitan Room
34 West 22nd Street
With: Jon Weber, Piano
Bill Zeffiro, Piano
Daryl Sherman, Piano
Steve Doyle, Bass
Peter and William Anderson- Saxophone & Clarinet