The 29-song opening medley alone is abundant with razzle dazzle. KT Sullivan and Larry Woodard are back on their perch at the refurbished Oak Room of the Algonquin Hotel, sailing through a bountiful parcel of tunes by the likes of Berlin, Coward, Arlen and the Gershwins — the unifying theme is that all the songs originated in revues.
Unencumbered by a book, the deadly foe of many a musical, revue songs have a life of their own. Spanning a half-century from 1902 to “New Faces of 1952,” the sunny travelogue taps slivers of joy from “On the Sunny Side of the Street” and “Manhattan” to “Stairway to Paradise.”
Sullivan always strikes me as having just stepped out of her own time machine. The saucy soubrette mirrors those magazine covers of a radiant ’20s Ziegfeld showgirl. In another life she most certainly was a Gibson Girl. Playful, naughty or seductively romantic, Sullivan’s sweet soprano voice frames the songs with creamy clarity, refined allure and seductive warmth.
Her spare but informative anecdotal narrative connect the songs with insightful thumbnail sketches of the great revue stars of the first half of the century: Nora Bayes, Lillian Russell and the sultry Libby Holman, to name a few. The latter, a tragic figure and for a time the darling of cafe society, is recalled with “Moanin’ Low” — the song that helped win an Oscar for Claire Trevor as a tipsy songstress in “Key Largo” — and perhaps the torchiest song of them all, “Body and Soul.”
Tune was banned by Boston radio stations in 1930 on the grounds of obscenity, and Sullivan turns the Johnny Green-Edward Heyman classic into the most provocative and compelling moment in the show.
Woodard is not only an exceptionally polished accompanist but also a mellow singer of the old supper club school. Think the late English saloon singer Leslie Hutchinson. Woodard contributes a few distinctive solo spots, including Cole Porter’s “I’m a Gigolo,” Fats Waller’s “Ain’t Misbehavin'” and “Harlem on My Mind,” an Irving Berlin lowdown, uptown reflection introduced in 1933 by Ethel Waters in “As Thousands Cheer.” Woodard’s sass and silky sophistication beautifully complement the sleek Sullivan radiance.
Closer finds the couple crooning “As Time Goes By,” a song that did not originate in Rick’s Cafe but in a 1933 revue, “Everybody’s Welcome.” In one fleeting hour, Sullivan and Woodard transport the listener to a long-ago era of distinctive song. Formal dress is not required, even if this does happen to be the classiest show in town!