A good show is a good show. Colored Lights, directed by Eric Michael Gillett, was originally performed at The Algonquin’s Oak Room in 2007. It’s cohesive, well written, and personal to performer KT Sullivan who dives into multiple genres like a happy salmon knowing where she’s going. Intermittent parlando is effective, anecdotes charming.
Harvey Schmidt/Tom Jones’ “Try To Remember” provides soft intro into recollections of the artist’s years as an actor. “In the theater, a season can be a lifetime and a lifetime can be a season,” she quotes acerbic critic Addison DeWitt from All About Eve. A 1986 Cleveland production of The Boys From Syracuse during which Larry (Lorenz) Hart straggled in to supply late lyrics on a bar napkin, gave Sullivan the opportunity to sing “Falling in Love With Love” (written with Richard Rodgers) for director George Abbott. Here she performs it perhaps more wisely, looking back, as if bemused. We sway.
“I’m Just a Little Girl from Little Rock” (Jule Styne/Leo Robin- Gentlemen Prefer Blondes- in which she played Lorelei ) showcases the vocalist’s familiar, wide-eyed innocent persona flirting masterfully with audience. The next number alternates caustic reviews out of Diana Rigg’s collection ‘No Turn Unstoned’ with verses from the eclectic “Well, of All the Rotten Shows” (Irving Berlin –Face the Music). A perfect sequence. Jon Weber contributes vaudeville piano.
Three sincere, deftly understated ballads culminate in “And I Was Beautiful” (Jerry Herman- Dear World.) Sullivan is so credible she almost blushes. Wistfully telling us she would’ve liked to have been cast in the Angela Lansbury role, she quips, “I don’t play girls anymore. I find it- cleansing.”
“Autumn in New York” (Vernon Duke – Thumbs Up) arrives a wolf in sheeps’ clothing. Sullivan starts by melodically relishing each conjured image. Suddenly the number erupts full-fledged, complex jazz as Weber’s finger-flying instrumental. I find this and the vocalist’s attempt to resume above it, jarring.
Musically difficult theatrical turns include “Barbara Song” (Kurt Weil/Bertold Brecht- The Three Penny Opera) which appears to be a wink-wink parody and the more successful, quite moving “Dividing Day” (Adam Guettel- The Light in the Piazza.) While I don’t believe the emulated character in Stephen Sondheim’s “Who’s That Woman?”(Follies), a sharp, poignant “One Halloween” and soaring, take-me-or-leave-me “But Alive” are splendidly presented (Charles Strouse/Lee Adams-Applause).
Dick Gallagher’s adroit arrangement of “Another Op’nin, Another Show” (Cole Porter-Kiss Me Kate) and “There’s No Business Like Show Business” (Irving Berlin-Annie Get Your Gun) is prefaced by Sullivan’s signature Mae West turn. Phrases are vividly savored in this slower mounting. When the second tune erupts like a brakeless train, it’s come from somewhere.
With reference to husband Steve Downey and a brood of grandchildren, Sullivan declares her life rich, “and yet…” leads us into four bars of “Much More” (Harvey Schmidt/Tom Jones- The Fantastiks), which in turn, opens sluice gates to “Colored Lights” (John Kander/Fred Ebb-The Rink). The beautiful title song is given its due with evocative phrasing and lush accompaniment. Weber almost folds onto the piano keys.
New to this iteration of Colored Lights is a mash-up of 29 songs from 1929. A cavalcade of clever connections pepper the stop/start medley with not a stitch dropped. Impressive. Sullivan and Weber have reached a point where they finish each other’s sentences.
Photos by Maryann Lopinto
KT Sullivan: Colored Lights
Directed by Eric Michael Gillett
Musical Direction/Piano- Jon Weber
The Laurie Beechman Theater
407 West 42nd Street
Additional Shows: August 16, September 13, October 15, 2017
Aloha! Disney’s next big animated epic Moana (featuring Dwayne Johnson as the famed Hawaiian God Maui himself) comes out November 23. Clever timing not only to release a family friendly movie around the holiday season, but also now that the weather’s getting darker and chillier to beguile audiences with one of the world’s dreamiest tropical location shots. In fact Hawaii has long been the setting for a wide variety of movies including the following.
From Here to Eternity (1953) Fred Zinneman (Oklahoma! High Noon, A Man For All Seasons) directed this adaption of the James Jones novel. The film follows the personal issues of three U.S soldiers stationed on Hawaii in the months leading up to Pearl Harbor. The all-star cast sported Burt Lancaster, Montgomery Clift, and Frank Sinatra as the three men while Deborah Kerr and Donna Reed played the women in the their lives. The supporting cast included Ernest Borgnine, George Reeves, and Claude Akins, among others. Small wonder it was nominated for thirteen Academy Awards and won eight including Best Picture, Best Director, Adapted Screenplay, Supporting Actor (Frank Sinatra) and Supporting Actress (Donna Reed). It’s also now considered one of the best films ever made and the scene with Burt Lancaster and Deborah Kerr on the beach is a cultural icon.
Blue Hawaii (1961) First and foremost among Elvis’s legendary Hawaiian films is this musical comedy. Chadwick Gates (Elvis) is a returning veteran whose mother Sarah Lee (Angela Lansbury) wants him to take over the family fruit company. Chad instead goes to work as a tour guide at his girlfriend Maile’s (Joan Blackman) travel agency. Reviews were mixed but the healthy box office receipts inspired the studio to send Elvis back to the Big Island for two more films Girls! Girls! Girls! and Paradise Hawaiian Style. Meanwhile the movie’s soundtrack spent twenty weeks at #1 on the Billboard Pop Album charts and was nominated for a Grammy as well.
The North Shore (1987) Rick Kane (Matt Adler of Flight of the Navigator and White Water Summer) is a teenage kid from Arizona who uses his winnings from a wave tank surfing contest to fly out to Hawaii in hopes of becoming a surfing pro. He quickly learns the real ocean is a lot different than a wave tank and he’s got a lot to learn. Fortunately he comes under the tutelage of legendary soul surfer Chandler (Gregory Harrison). The film has gone on to become a cult hit for its awesome surfing sequences and use of real life professional surfers like Corky Carroll, Gerry Lopez, Laird Hamilton, among many more.
Picture Bride (1995) Kayo Hatta directed and co-wrote the screenplay for Picture Bride with Mari Hatta. It follows a young woman named Riyo (Youki Kodho) who arrives in Hawaii as a “Picture Bride” for a man she’s never met before. To Riyo’s disappointment her intended Matsuji (Akira Takayama) turns out to be considerably older than she anticipated. Meanwhile, racial tensions and labor disputes are rife on the sugar plantation where Riyo and Matsuji work. Critically acclaimed with an over 80% fresh rating at Rotten Tomatoes, it also won the Audience Award at the Sundance Film Festival and was an Official Selection at the Cannes Film Festival.
The Descendants (2011) Alexander Payne (Election, Sideways, Nebraska) directed this comedy-drama starring George Clooney and adapted from the novel by Kaui Hart Hemmings. Land Baron Matt King (Clooney) is considering selling a land trust of 25,000 pristine acres his family owns on Kaui. While this is going on his wife Elizabeth is now in a coma because of a tragic boating accident and Matt is shocked to learn from his eldest daughter Alex (Shailene Woodley in the role that launched her career) that his wife was having an affair. It won the Academy Award for Best Adapted Screenplay and two Golden Globe awards for Best Picture and Best Actor for Clooney.
Top photo: Bigstock