Half Bart, All Heart: A Double Bill at Zankel Hall
May 22, 2005
Report by Rob Lester

The Sullivans: K.T., Heather, Patrick, Stacy, Tim and Robin
New York City was invaded last Sunday, once again, by the singing Sullivan family. This talented clan is scientific proof that musical talent can be inherited - and science was never so sweet. The occasion, May 22, 2005, was family matriarch Elizabeth Sullivan's 75th birthday and, rather than have a family reunion back home in Boggy Depot, Oklahoma, they assembled on one of New York City's most high-class stages. In the second half of a two-part evening, various Sullivans sang songs written by various Sullivans, but mostly Mom. An appreciative audience at Zankel Hall, the relatively new addition to Carnegie Hall, added a little extra love to a family songfest and tribute that was already brimming with emotion. This was not a first New York nod; the family has had similar concerts featuring Elizabeth's songwriting and that of her skilled offspring. They represent various music styles, but it all swells with sincerity and open-hearted expression that has no desire to be coy or shy about it.

Cabaret audiences have long been familiar with soprano KT Sullivan who often performs tribute shows for the great composers of Broadway musicals, often with Mark Nadler, who was at the piano for most of this set. The remarkable Mark is known for his irreverence and manic & antic hilarity, but he was in his "decaf" mode, simply showing grace and providing elegantly emotional settings for the material. (He did, however, throw a little fresh water into the home fires when Elizabeth dotingly said that Mark was like "her adopted son" and he snapped, "Yeah, but I'm still not in the will!") Elizabeth sang several of her songs, which were mostly about family bonds and personal strength, and each member of the family had a couple of turns to do the same.

Daughters KT, Stacy, and Heather each have their own distinct (and impressive) sound and persona, as their own shows and solo albums have demonstrated. Daughter-in-law Robin is also talented, doing a strong turn with the empowering "Turn It Around." Sons Patrick and Tim were gentlemanly and charming. Cowboy-hatted Tim offered some needed lightness in a number about 100 musical influences (and yes, the lyrics actually refer to 100 - count 'em, 100 - songs or singers). This was a tune he wrote himself. Yes, the gene pool resulted in not only the inheritance of singing talent but songwriting talent. Heather and Stacy are additional evidence, but this was primarily Mom's night. There were nice family stories - growing up poor, marrying young, struggling to make ends meet, raising young 'uns, going back to college after all that, and so on. The sentimental evening matched the tone of most of the songs, which deserve to be better known. Group numbers such as "One More Time" let us know that the whole is even greater than the sum of the parts.

The program suffered a bit from being on the long side, after an already generous first half and some patrons' heartstrings may have been overplucked as the plucky Sullivans sang on. A curmudgeon's nightmare, perhaps, are these rather poetic paeans to husband, home and hearth, but it was hard not to be touched seeing a talented and very vibrant, classy 75-year-old celebrate her milestone in this way. Tim gallantly dancing with his mother during one number was perfect. Whether singing of love of country or love for the home "where your picture hangs on the wall," this group seems to be a family one would dream of being born into. One can only imagine how sweet their memories must be of Christmas mornings, chores on the farm, and sitting around after a home-cooked meal swapping songs.


The first half of the evening was dedicated to the songs of the late composer-lyricist Bart Howard. June 1st is the 90th anniversary of his birth. Hosted graciously by KT Sullivan, who was a friend and professional colleague, it was a tender tribute that brought attention to his fine output which has always been overshadowed by the enormity of his one super-standard "Fly Me To The Moon." KT got to sing that one and others she recorded on her own Howard album years ago. Tim and and Stacy Sullivan made appearances in this half as well. Stacy gracefully sang the folk-like "My Love Is A Wanderer," in combination with Craig Rubano's romantic and joyous "On The First Warm Day." Craig also charmed in duet with the jazzily delicious Daryl Sherman who also soloed and accompanied herself on piano as usual. Likewise, the elegant Barbara Carroll presented the sly "You Are Not My First Love" and "If You Leave Paris." She spoke of knowing Mr. Howard when she first came to New York in the 1950s. Joyce Breach, another class act who knows the art of being subtle and direct, shared "It Was Worth It," written for Mabel Mercer on her 50th birthday. (Mabel Mercer was a great champion of Bart Howard songs.) Joyce also did "Walk-Up" about the flat shared by the songwriter and his life partner, Bud, who was in the audience.

Dapper and deep-voiced Allan Harris made a strong impression with "Man In The Looking Glass," a reflective song written for Frank Sinatra's 50th birthday. Mark Nadler's "Let Me Love You" was a cute hit. But it was Lumiri Tubo who stopped the show. Gorgeously gowned, she hit a home run with a dynamic "Would You Believe It" and followed with a tender and rich "I'll Be Easy To Find." Those who saw her debut at Town Hall just a few years have seen tremendous growth in stage presence and vocal power, and this was a moment where it all came together and the applause was long and enthusiastic.

Anecdotes about the songwriter were peppered throughout the presentation and these were well-handled, too, never rambling or too long. Both halves of the program were presented as part of last year's Cabaret Convention at Town Hall, and many familiar faces from that loyal audience base were seen in the hall. The evening was long, as each half felt almost like a full show in time and in emotional weight. Nevertheless, it was a genuinely heartfelt presentation by those who really care about fine songs and songwriters.

James Followell was a welcome talent at the piano in the first half, and Mia Wu made glorious appearances on violin. John Loehrke was on bass for some numbers, and Sean Smith was on bass for Barbara Carroll. A great deal of talent and affection was on the stage and the crowd drank it in gratefully.

Photo: Maryann Lopinto

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