Jerome Kern’s music has faded from the public ear somewhat, at least in comparison to his peers Gershwin, Berlin, Rodgers and Porter. That esteemed quartet considered Kern the first among equals, and KT Sullivan’s new act at the Algonquin handily demonstrates why.
An entertaining and varied collection of 26 songs in whole or in part, “All the Things You Are” addresses just about all the things Kern is (or was, in a career that extended from 1904 through his death in 1945). Sullivan is very much at ease with her patter about the “pixyish and overbearing” Kern, and very much at home “fanning the flame at the oracle of the Oak Room.” Singer has always been able to deliver a comedy song with aplomb, and she does so repeatedly. But she truly shines in the more serious titles.
Comic highlights include two 1917 songs, “Bungalow in Quoque” and “Nesting Time in Flatbush,” in which the composer subverted his melodies to the wild imagination of P.G. Wodehouse; a sequence of rueful unrequited love songs written for what Sullivan describes as “women sitting on a piano.”
It is the straight ballads, though, where the spotlight shines on Kern’s durable music. “In the Heart of the Dark,” “The Folks Who Live on the Hill” and “All the Things You Are” are breathtaking; Sullivan sings two Helen Morgan songs, “Don’t Ever Leave Me” and “Can’t Help Lovin’ Dat Man of Mine” with such feeling and truth that we want to see her tackle Morgan’s role of Julie in “Show Boat.” She also gives us a soprano “Ol’ Man River” that is unexpectedly illuminating, while “I’m Old Fashioned”–sung mostly to an unadorned piano accompaniment–is pristine.
Show is well paced by director Eric Michael Gillett, allowing Sullivan’s warm personality to brighten the room without stealing the spotlight from the composer. Tedd Firth firmly supports the star from the piano.