Babs Celebrates Babes

On the music scene, the warm humor and exquisite vocal flourishes of the eclectic, electrifying Barbara Brussell are causing a power outage down at the Metropolitan Room in Chelsea. For the next four Thursdays at 10 p.m. she’s celebrating some of the women who bucked trends, stormed barricades and invaded a songwriting world dominated by men. The 50-year career of the great Dorothy Fields is a highlight, along with songs by Carolyn Leigh, Marilyn Bergman and Betty Comden—all, amazingly, collaborators of the late Cy Coleman. I could do without anything and everything by Joan Baez, and although I admire Francesca Blumenthal, “Museum” is not one of her outstanding songs. One major disappointment: Nothing at all by Peggy Lee? Still, it was good to revisit the underexposed Dory Previn, and “Beware of Young Girls,” the well-written musical analysis of how Mia Farrow stole Previn’s husband Andre from the living room piano bench to the altar, is an autobiographical classic. Interspersed with quotes from lady writers (“Lead me not into temptation,” wrote Rita Mae Brown—“I can find the way myself!”) and from accomplished women as diverse as Carson McCullers and Gertrude Stein, the songs run the gamut of distaff experience: love unfulfilled, love unfinished, even love of one woman for another, as devilishly expressed by some Carolyn Leigh lyrics taken out of context from Little Me (“Pardon me, miss, but I’ve never been kissed … by a real live girl”). Accompanied by veteran pianist Alex Rybeck, Ms. Brussell’s voice begins tight and husky, then the sheer energy and force of her singing shake it loose until the tables vibrate. Her eyes sparkle radiantly, her love of songs and her admiration for the women who write them are infectious, and she always makes me smile. Men are the focus—men who stay, men who leave and men who are just plain men. This much I promise: you’ll love Barbara Brussell, no matter who you are.

Finally, for cabaret mavens who missed last week’s rave of KT Sullivan, which appeared only on this paper’s Web site, don’t forget you’ve got one more week to catch her delightful fall show at the Algonquin. Channeling Marilyn Monroe and Mae West, baring the historic poitrine of Lillian Russell, singing better than ever and polishing off the best of Sondheim, Brecht, Weill, Porter, Rodgers and Hart, Jule Styne, Vernon Duke and more, she’s in a league of her own. Watching this delectable doll from Oklahoma reminds me of that great line Burt Lancaster aimed at the smarmy Tony Curtis in Sweet Smell of Success: “I’d hate to take a bite out of you—you’re a cookie full of arsenic.” KT Sullivan is just the opposite. She’s still a cookie, Cookie—but good enough to eat.