By Myra Chanin
The first cabaret show that knocked my sox off — when I began hanging out in New York City around the turn of this century – was the award-winning Off-Broadway hit American Rhapsody. It extolled the words and music of first-generation New Yorkers who became immortal because their immigrant parents had an upright piano hauled through the front window of their second story apartment on the Lower East Side. It was meant for their elder boy, Ira’s use, but it appealed more to his younger brother, George. You know the story. Ira turned out to be a wizard with words and rhymes and George composed his way up to the New York Philharmonic.
In American Rhapsody, the Gershwins were celebrated by two equally talented immigrants from the Midwest: Kathleen Sullivan who grew up in Boggy Depot, Oklahoma in a musical family of eight children and Waterloo, Iowa’s Mark Nadler, who according to him “had been carefully raised.” My husband Alvin was even more enchanted with American Rhapsody than I was, and I was plenty enchanted with KT and Mark! Alvin saw American Rhapsody four times and paid full price for every ticket. Greater love hath no accountant/lawyer. American Rhapsody raised Mark and KT to unbelievable heights when World Class Cartoonist Al Hirshfield ‘s caricature of them appeared in the New York Times.
In the ensuing years we have followed Mark and KT from one watering hole to another as they celebrated the lives and works of Berlin, Porter, Comden and Green, Dorothy Fields, Sondheim and Jule Styne, have reveled watching and listening to them become international stars.
KT Sullivan has been a headliner for the past two decades in New York at Feinstein’s/54Below, The Laurie Beechman Theatre, Birdland and on PBS. She also stared at The Pheasantry in London, and has been showcased at Lincoln Center, Carnegie Hall, The Kennedy Center, the Spoleto Festival, The Chichester Festival and The Adelaide Festival down under. That’s the short list.
Mark Nadler is an internationally acclaimed singer, pianist, tap-dancer and comedian. He was one of Three Singular Sensations, the other two being Marvin Hamlish and Martin Short. He’s performed with symphony orchestras, been the recipient of too many to count Manhattan Association of Cabarets, Backstage Bistro, New York Nightlife and Bay Area Outer Critics’ Circle Awards and in 2015 became Broadway World Editor’s Choice for Entertainer of the Year. For me, he’s the Entertainer of any Year.
Recently, KT, now the artistic director of the Mabel Mercer Foundation, realized that she and Mark hadn’t done a show together in six years, a lapse that needed correcting. But what Broadway leading light should they celebrate? The answer was obvious. The closing night of the 2018 Cabaret Convention was a celebration of Alan Jay Lerner’s 100th Birthday. KT and Mark decided to add their own celebration of Lerner’s lyrics at The Green Room 42, Broadway’s newest intimate concert venue and supper club, two nights later. KT and Mark called their show “Almost Like Being In Love,” and it occurred on Sunday, October 14 at 9:30 PM in front of a packed house in which cabaret royalty and ardent fans joined Mark in celebrating another significant birthday, Mark’s Fifty Seventh! How ardent were his fans? I sat next to Bud from Baltimore who always comes to New York when Mark performs. KT and Mark also celebrated their 25 years of friendship.
They were a sight for sore eyes and a sound for sore ears. KT, looking younger than springtime in a slinky red gown that hid her “great legs,” but highlighted her “perfect eyebrows,” recalled her first impression of Mark. “He was the most talented person I ever met.” One of the highlights of the evening was their retelling of a journey to San Francisco they’d taken to fill a booking. “She was staying at the Fairmount. They’d booked me in a room at the Days Inn.” Their story was hilarious as they talked over each other, like a musical George Burns and Gracie Allen.
As always, they found worthy Lerner lyrics that weren’t familiar from shows that had not been greatest successes. “One More Walk Around the Garden,” from Burton Lane’s Carmelina had a Victorian feel. “You Haven’t Changed at All,” was a number I hadn’t heard at all from Frederick Loewe’s The Day before Spring, ditto.
“I Left My Hat in Haiti,” originally talk/sung by Fred Astaire from the film Royal Wedding, took on a sexier innocence when warbled by KT: “I couldn’t tell you how I got there. I only know it was so hot there.“ Even familiar phrases took on a new tenderness when caressed by KT: “Knowing how in spring I’m bewitched by you so?”
They also appreciated Lerner’s wit when KT described being a guest at her mother’s wedding day, or Mark’s declaration from Gigi that “forever more is shorter than before” or Methuselah being his patron saint.
Mark’s dynamic piano playing had as much power as four hands playing a duet. He never even glanced at the keyboard. It was as if his brain were connected to the piano’s harp and, without any help from his eyes, improvised brilliant arrangements.
If you missed this show, you missed one of the best musical events of the season. Hopefully KT and Mark will reprise this show. If you’d like that, start singing, “Come Back to Me,” from Lerner and Lane’s On A Clear Day and hope that works!
Photos: Natasha Castillo Photography
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