She’s The Top: KT Sullivan At The Oak Room

kt sullivan credit heather sullivan Shes The Top: KT Sullivan At The Oak RoomDarling cabaret diva KT Sullivan is probably tired of being called bubbly, pixilated and effervescent, but in her splendid new show at the Algonquin (through May 28), if fizzy fits, then wear it. It didn’t hurt Blossom Dearie. Besides, fizz is better than fizzle. 

In a jam-packed musical extravaganza she calls “Rhyme, Women and Song,” there’s plenty to go around. This is a trumpet blast for songwriters on the distaff side, and I really can’t think of any she left out. Opening with Dorothy Fields and Carolyn Leigh, she moves on to George Gershwin’s girlfriend Kay Swift (“Fine and Dandy”) and Richard Rodgers’ clever, underrated daughter Mary (“The Boy From … ,” written with Stephen Sondheim), and finally dips her pedicured toes into contemporary creeks for the first time with a couple of songs by Joni Mitchell and Carole King. Dragged kicking and screaming into the second half of the 20th century proves painless, but enough already with being hip. I preferred it when she was hep, as in Betty Comden’s hilarious lyrics to Leonard Bernstein’s “I Can Cook Too.” Ms. Sullivan started out singing opera in her native Oklahoma, but show tunes got into her gizzard and now she sings ‘em all and we stay all night. Prepare for some surprises: One of the most luscious songs ever written by Peggy Lee, called “He’ll Make Me Believe That He’s Mine,” is a highlight, and Dorothy Parker’s haunting lyrics to “How Am I to Know” (sung memorably by Ava Gardner in Pandora and the Flying Dutchman) brought tears to her eyes. They were not MGM glycerine. Ace jazz pianist Jon Weber and cool bassist John Webber (irony, but no relation) are able companions on this encompassing journey through the wisdom and ingenuity of lady poets, and if you missed anybody, they all close with a medley of 29 songs by simply everybody, from “Besame  Mucho” to “Who’s Afraid of the Big Bad Wolf.” KT Sullivan’s cheering fan base is filling the Oak Room to applaud an act that showcases her musical savvy better than any of her previous shows. She’s the top, she’s Napoleon brandy, she’s the cure for what ails you. Troubles fly away when KT Sullivan performs. Too bad there’s not enough of her to go around. Undoubtedly she would have hummed her way through Hurricane Katrina.

rreed@observer.com