Singing Pretty

The cabaret season is off to a slow start, but effervescent KT Sullivan’s sparkling Jerome Kern tribute at the Algonquin (through Oct. 11) is required homework for music lovers with superior taste. Her concert-ready soprano waxes obscure gems such as “The Land Where the Good Songs Go,” “Raggedy Ann” and “April Fooled Me” with pure Shinola, and her warm lower register underscores the romantic subtext of Oscar Hammerstein’s lyrics in “The Folks Who Live on the Hill,” “In the Heart of the Dark” and “All the Things You Are”; it’s as though she’s singing just for you. Her trilling soprano is not an automatically appropriate vessel for “Ol’ Man River,” but she invests it with the sweet insouciant nostalgia of a Southern belle on foreign soil homesick for the Mississippi. Better still, there’s the wit and wile of P. G. Wodehouse on a naughtier than usual “Cleopatterer,” and a pair of hilarious gems, “Bungalow in Quogue” and “When It’s Nesting Time in Flatbush,” that will spill your cabernet.  From Helen Morgan torch songs like “Don’t Ever Leave Me” to nostalgic war anthems like “The Last Time I Saw Paris,” here are 26 Jerome Kern masterpieces, beautifully arranged by pianist Tedd Firth and sung to perfection by cabaret’s crown princess, that will leave you drooling.

I don’t know what to say about the current booking disaster at Feinstein’s at Loew’s Regency, but it’s the wrong room for an amateur like Nikki Blonsky. This rotund, bellowing 19-year-old toadstool delivered the hackneyed goods just fine when she was plucked from her job scooping ice cream in Great Neck and whisked off to Hollywood to star in the movie version of Hairspray. But where do you go without John Travolta playing your mother? After opening with—what else?—“Good Morning Baltimore,” it’s nowhere to go but down. At these prices, even the Blonsky family and their friends (who attended in abundance) yelling “Brava!” deserve better material than “The Shoop Shoop Song.” Wider but no taller than Billy Barty, Ms. Blonsky is only 19. Her influences are Patsy Cline and the awful Frank Wildhorn, not Peggy Lee and Cy Coleman. So she sings “Crazy” and two Wildhorn songs that sound exactly alike, with all the animation of a fire hydrant. She’s only 19, for chrissake. Then get ready for excerpts from shows she did in high school. Just because she played Mrs. Lovett in Sweeney Todd does not mean sophisticated audiences want to hear Sondheim massacred with good intentions. If I wanted to see a high-school Angela Lansbury, I’d go to Great Neck. Oh, well, she’s only 19. There’s nothing wrong with a young point of view, but with a $60 cover for the $75 “premium seats” plus a $40 food and beverage minimum, what is she doing here? She’s only 19, so why is Nikki Blonsky singing the “Habanera” from Bizet’s Carmen? I never spent so much time looking at my watch. But enough already. She’s fearless. She’s green as raw broccoli. She’s also lucky as hell. How did she get a coveted booking at Feinstein’s? Did I forget to mention she’s only 19 years old?

rreed@observer.com