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