Friday, March 26, 2010

A Shoe Full of Champagne

Mark Nadler & KT Sullivan
“Gershwin…Here to Stay”

When the Stature of Liberty climbed out of the ocean in 1886, she found a Manhattan that already had an abundance of dames. Which explains why she wisely constrained herself to an island out in the harbor. Way back to Jenny Lind, this city loves its theatrical ladies. I just spent a week indexing a book on the Flatiron Building* which focused me on the Gay Nineties to the Grim 1930s. So Lillian Russell and Anna Held were much on my mind (and in the book) when I joined Rick Hinkson and Zachary Stains in the Oak Room of the Algonquin last Saturday night.

I vaguely remember hearing a recording of Lillian Russell and seeing a glimpse of Anna Held in an old film. I have no clear idea what either lady was like except that everywhere they went they were bombarded with orchids, drenched in Champagne, and followed by gentlemen offering them bushel baskets overflowing with diamonds. But regardless of what you may have heard to the contrary, when it comes these legendary ladies, the furthest I go back is to Sophie Tucker, Pearl Bailey, and the ever diffident Miss Merman. (I WAS NOT at Castle Clinton the night Jenny Lind made her debut.)

KT Sullivan may very well be the last of these Great Dames of the New York stage. She is by far the sultriest. She has eyes that would force Hoffmann to write a whole new tale, a complextion to shame a porcelain doll, and what a voice. If Cleopatra could sing like this, Caesar would never have gone back to Rome, Salome could gather her heads where she may without removing a stitch, and Delilah would have no need for scissors. There should be baskets and baskets and baskets of Cartier, Van Cleef, and Tiffany whatnots waiting for her nightly.

Mark Nadler has arranged and directed this George Gershwin evening. The Oak Room is long and narrow with the piano against one wall in the middle and most of the audience left and right. Not exactly audience friendly, it can have an isolating effect. The Caffe Cino, much smaller, presented the same problem. Nadler’s solution was much the same that I used downtown fifty years ago. He wisely employs the whole room from entrances at either end to the aisles, even to the tables. (Miss Sullivan occasionally prowls about, a leopard off its leash) The result was to draw the audience in to a warm and intimate embrace. We were at his private party.

Mark Nadler is the quintessential stage door Johnny (complete with spats). To be in the same room with him is to be dressed in white tie and tails out on a night-on-the-town. He managed to conjure everything but a chorus line. He did pull a second pianist (the marvelous Jon Weber) out of his top hat. And together they performed an astonishing moment of music. Perhaps the most important moment of music heard in this city on that night. Jon Weber joined Mark Nadler in his piano-four hand arrangement of Gershwin’s Piano Concerto in F. And the world stood still to listen.

A footnote: Speaking of music that stops the world in its tracks, I had been at the Algonquin a few weeks earlier for "Puttin' On the Ritz," piano man Steve Ross’s celebration of songs associated with Fred Astaire. Steve Ross is the toast of cities major to minor from here to the Antipodes. He also may be the nicest person I have ever met. He is such a perfect fit to this music, by the end of the show, it was as if his piano was dancing with Astaire.

KT Sullivan & Mark Nadler:
“Gershwin…Here to Stay”
Tue–Thu at 8:30pm , Fri, Sat at 8:30pm & 11pm
ongoing through April 10.
The Oak Room at the Algonquin Hotel
59 W 44th St (212-419-9331)
Tickets: $50 plus $30 minimum.

There is an earlier post on KT Sullivan in this Blog for September 30, 2008, under the title “Come to the Cabaret.”

*If you love the history of New York City as much as I do, I recommend The Flatiron by Alice Sparberg Alexiou, St. Martin’s Press, 2010.

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