KT Sullivan and a merry band of vocalist compatriots meet once a year for centennial celebrations saluting memorable events, birthdays of public figures, and musical talent. Shows are well researched, high spirited and loose, perhaps none so much as this one, which felt like a large, party in someone’s living room. The Laurie Beechman is packed with friends, fellow entertainers, and a great many visitors on pilgrimage to The Mabel Mercer Foundation’s annual Cabaret Convention. The honorary year is 1912.
Jon Weber and KT Sullivan
Master pianist/arranger/historian Jon Weber begins with a staunchly jazzy, high speed overture of Burton Lane songs. Lane would’ve been 100 this year. His widow, Lynn sits beaming front and center. From out of the darkened audience, KT Sullivan then emits her sweetest soprano winding her way to the stage with “How Are Things in Glocca Morra?” (Finian’s Rainbow) Accompaniment is like a breeze through wind chimes.
The Boy Scouts of America were founded in 1912, Captain Scott became the second to reach The North Pole, The Republic of China was proclaimed, Teddy Wilson was born. “There are 2 days that define your life,” Weber tells us, “the day you’re born and the day you figure out why you were born.” For Weber, hearing Teddy Wilson accomplished the latter. He then offers a complex rendition of “Moonlight Cocktail” illustrating the composer “chomping at the bit towards bebop.” Once again I’m made suspicious the pianist has a third hand.
Cleve Douglass, Tim Sullivan
Cleve Douglass follows with a mellow, mellifluous version of “It’s Impossible” in a nod to Perry Como. A disappointment to hear only one song from this vocalist. The first minimum wage law was passed in 1912, U.S. Marines landed in Cuba, and Woody Guthrie was born. Tim Sullivan tells us a bit about the legendary song writer whose father was a prominent, well heeled politician until he lost everything. Guthrie then took to riding the rails as a hobo, becoming the voice of the Great Depression though he had money earned from music in his pocket. We’re treated to a cowboy folk song written before life changed for Guthrie, a poignant lament written as he experienced the country’s trials, and the iconic “This Land is Your Land” on which we all sang chorus. Every number was beautifully communicated. Sullivan not only has an appealing voice, but a sincere, gentle manner which is completely engaging. (He accompanied himself on guitar.)
Jeff Harnar, Valerie Lemon
W.C. Handy published the first blues song in 1912, Woodrow Wilson defeated Teddy Roosevelt, Pope John Paul I, Gordon Parks, and Barbara Hutton were born. KT Sullivan sings a lilting “Look to the Rainbow” (Finian’s Rainbow) as if she were dispensing wise advice. Joined on stage by Jeff Harnar the two share a Lane duet, after which Harnar delivers “Come Back to Me” (On a Clear Day You Can See Forever). A combination of melodic and conversational choices make the song effective. The vocalist is in control of momentum and his own growing tenor voice. Later, he performs another number from the musical with equal, successful investment and an arrangement by Alex Rybeck that sounds like the music of the spheres.
Steve Downey and KT Sullivan
“Too Late Now” (Royal Wedding) is performed by Valerie Lemon with wistful credibility. The always sympathetic Lemon seems to inhabit her characters. A rousing duet with Harnar is next. Voices balance well. In December 1912, the first municipal street cars arrived in San Francisco. “Some of our favorites from that year” wraps up this evening: The many faceted KT Sullivan sings “Moments Like This” and “Moonlight Bay” in her best chanteuse mode, evoking an earlier, more genteel era and “Be My Little Bumble Bee” as Betty Boop; Weber plays extravagant ragtime; Steve Downey (as a key holder) earnestly sings “The Sweetheart of Sigma Chi.” Lemon takes the stage again for two duets with KT Sullivan. The second is comprised of songs from a hymnal taught to Sullivan by her mother and to Lemon by her grandmother. Purity and harmony rein. ‘Simply lovely. As full and enthusiastic a sing-along as I’ve heard ends the evening. Slow to start (due to lengthy exposition), it ends with a bang and a room filled with grins.
Tune in next year.
Photos by Russ Weatherford
Group Left to Right: Jon Weber, KT Sullivan, Tim Sullivan, Valerie Lemon, Jeff Harnar, Cleve Douglass
1912 A Centennial Celebration
of Perry Como, Woody Guthrie, Burton Lane, Teddy Wilson..
Saluted by Cleve Douglass, Jeff Harnar, Valerie Lemon,
Tim Sullivan, Jon Weber
Hosted by KT Sullivan
The Laurie Beechman Theater
407 West 42nd Street
For other events go to the website.