Saturday, February 4, 2012

KT Sullivan!

"The test and the morality of society is what it does for its children."
- Dietrich Bonhoeffer, German theologian, (1906-1945)

Happy Saturday!

Last evening I conducted my workshop on how to create higher visibility utilizing social media. It was a diverse group of people. I had two actresses, an interfaith minister who was once one of the top PR men in the theater, a young girl who is just arrived in New York City at the age of 18 to pursue a career in theater (I went to high school with her mother in South Carolina!), three songwriters, and a singer. I was joined by my designer and web person, Glen Charlow, to offer support on any technical questions. As I do with each of my workshops, we went around the room and everyone introduce themselves and told what they do and what their goals were… especially with my workshop.There are two common threads that run through all of my workshops. The first is that everyone wants a fast Band-Aid, a solution to all the challenges that face us all as artists.  The second is that the answer is "out there".  In other words, If I only had that audience, that agent, that manager, that producer, that " you fill in the blank".
I'm going to give you the answer right now, free of charge, ENJOY the process! It does not happen overnight and you have to do the work. (Next workshop February 25th. Go here for testimonials:

If I've learned nothing else in the 20 plus years that I was doing my own show, it's this: while New York City is home to some of the most extraordinary theatrical events, it's not the only home in the neighborhood.
Paradigms are shifting all around us. And if we don't go with the flow, we truly will be left behind.
Just this week, it was announced that the Oak Room at the Algonquin Hotel will not be continuing cabaret.
Cabaret shows began in the Oak Room 32 years ago, just as I arrived in New York.
Therefore, it is always been a part of my New York existence.
Because of the expense, I did not get to the Oak room as much as I would've liked. However, I never saw show there that I did not like. The staff was always wonderful to me and I have wonderful memories of many shows there.

Over the years, I've seen many rooms come and go. I have seen entertainers who are the hot thing this year disappear the next year. The unfortunate thing about New York Cabaret's paradigm Is that it is been created in such a way that makes it virtually impossible for those that are performing to ever make money at this. I have been fortunate enough to make a living on the road over the past 20 years. New York for me was a place for me to try out my material and take it on the road.

 There was a time when the opposite would be the norm. I have the utmost respect for the blood, sweat and tears that entertainers put into their shows. I have said over and over again until the clubs have a vested interest in these performers, for the most part, everyone is set up to fail. Wake up club owners and booking managers or you will suffer the same fate of the Oak Room. Read about it in today's New York Times.

It saddens me beyond belief that I will not be seeing one of my favorite entertainers at the Oak room in May, as was originally planned. However, knowing her the way I do, with her tenacity and resilience, other doors will be opening fast and furiously. I am talking about KT Sullivan.
 I don't know exactly how long I've known KT, but it seems to me that as long as I've known of New York cabaret. I've known of KT Sullivan. I have followed her career from the beginning and she is someone that I admire on so many levels. We sat down and talked earlier this week, which is not always an easy task with KT.

Phil Geoffrey Bond, Me, Lisa Lampinelli, Carolyn Montgomery, Sandi Durell TRU panel YEARS AGO!

It seems to me as if she is always working and she is involved in many different projects.

This week alone, she had Dutch Treat Club, she is the president, and she was helping her sister, Stacy, who was in town to perform at the Midtown Jazz series, hosted by Ronnie White, to perform her tribute to Peggy Lee. One of the things that I admire about KT, among many things, she supports the shows her siblings do. No sibling rivalry here and talk about a musical family! KT's brother Tim is a country singer and her sisters, the aforementioned Stacy, and Heather (also, a successful photographer… She is photographed me many times) are equally at home behind the microphone. KT's mother, Elizabeth is also a singer. However, growing up, most of her exposure to singing and music was in church. She didn't see her first live show until she was 18 and in college! The show was South Pacific at Oklahoma Baptist University.

In my interview with KT, I wanted to capture her thoughts on many aspects of the business. My first question to KT is what she thinks about standing ovations and if they havereally lost their meaning. KT says that it's as if people want to prove that they bought the right ticket. It seems as if every Broadway show gets a standing ovation at the end of the show but that in other areas of the entertainment field audiences are a little bit more discerning. She said audiences are not so quick to jump to their feet at the opera and/or dance events. She was recently at the Joyce theater at a show that she felt really deserves a standing ovation and it just didn't happen.

KT's first professional job was at the St. Louis MUNI in the Merry Widow in 1980 with Roberta Peters. She played Olga, the flirt.

Elizabeth Sullivan

KT feels, as I do, that it is a shame that arts in education's funding is being cut. I heard someone say last week on television that the one legacy that every culture has left behind is their art. If we are cutting off the exposure to children and art, that does not bode well for future generations. At any other time in our nations history, we would not of been having this discussion. I asked KT if she felt that she was born in the wrong era, and if so, what other period of time would she even relate to and why? I have to relate a story here about KT.  Years ago, I was walking along eighth Avenue when I saw this gorgeous Gibson girl walking towards me with a parasol, no less. As she got closer, I realized it was KT! KT said she would've loved to of been around in the 19th century, just as it was transitioning to the 20th century. One of her favorite songwrites is Jerome Kern and she would've loved to have been a singer at that time. Recently KT performed at the Granite Room in a show invoking that era. All the music and songs were written  before the 1920s, and she did the show without a microphone. She said it was one of the most challenging shows that she had ever done and one of the most rewarding.

As with all of my blogs, we must discuss Carol Channing! KT and Mark Nadler performed their critically acclaimed and successful Gershwin show for Carol Channing and Harry Kullijian. KT had the same experience that I've had many times with Carol sitting in the audience. Carol is riveted on you as if she wants to drink in every aspect of the performance. We've had the same experience when Julie Wilson is sitting in the audience.
They both know what it means to be a great entertainer… They also know what it means to be a great audience member. KT, who is also Lorelei Lee in the revival of Gentlemen Prefer Blondes on Broadway, also performs for Carol when she received the Oscar Hammerstein award given by the York Theatre. When asked if she  thinks Carol is deserving of the Kennedy Center Honor, KT has the same response that almost everyone I've interviewed has. Disbelief that Carol has not actually won this award. Let's hope that this year is the year!

KT's most recent appearance was at the Algonquin in Rhyme, Women, and Song, her tribute to women songwriters. KT will be taking the show to The Colony in Palm Beach February 21 through the 25th...but before she gets to Palm Beach, she will be performing in Las Vegas this weekend with Mark Nadler, a frequent costar and collaborator.

When I asked KT what her biggest success in show business is, she responded without hesitation her yearly Algonquin shows. She has received major press coverage, especially from the New York Times. She loves the challenge of creating a new show every year. She says there is no better way to express ourselves than in the choice of material that we choose and bringing our own interpretations to the songs.

I asked KT what her lowest point was and how she surpassed that.   It was when she was doing Gentlemen Prefer Blondes on Broadway. It had opened at the Goodspeed Opera House in a highly successful production. Because of the audience and critical response, it was inevitable that the show would move to Broadway. Somehow in the transfer, all of the elements did not come together. They truly did not have the budget to bring this show to a Broadway theatre in a way befitting a Broadway production. THEN, to top it off, she was reviewed by a film critic as opposed to a theatre critic in the New York Times!  The critics were unmerciful in their disdain of the show, and KT unfortunately, was not considered the same darling of Broadway as Carol Channing was when she did the role. I think it would be difficult for any actress portraying a role that is SO identifiable with a particular person. I am anxious to see how Megan Hilty will fare in the ucoming Encores production later this year.
KT says that cabaret got her through that period. She joined forces with James Followell and they created a show called Great Ladies of the Silver Screen. KT had found her niche and the critics were unanimous in their praise. One night cabaret critic John Hogland asked KT if she was aware at how much people were talking about her and how much they loved her. Those with the right words at the right time, that KT needed to hear.

Who are your top five models and influences as an artist?
Julie Wilson. Seeing her at the Algonquin with such warmth and that gardenia in her hair.
Howard Witt: my first musical director who introduced me to the greats like Barbara Cook.
Barbara Cook! My first shows consisted mostly of her songs.
Carol Channing: I remember the first time she came to Oklahoma in Lorelei
Carlos Noble

If you could not be in show business, what would you do?
Don't laugh, but I think the Peace Corps! Can you imagine me with dirty nails? I'd like to be like Mother Teresa.

Are you happy at the point you are right now in your career?
Yes. I have been president of the Dutch Treat Club for the past 7 years. Last year I hosted the Cabaret Convention a couple of nights. I find that I really love being an MC and/or hostess. I think eventually I would like to do what Marilyn Maye does and conduct master classes.

What do you do to remain positive when life's hiccups get you down?
It's great being married. My husband, Steve Downey, definitely gets me through those difficult times. It's nice to have someone to share those times with. I focus on my mom and my brothers and sisters. When I married Steve, I inherited five stepchildren, and now we have seven step grandchildren!

How on earth do you reach theatergoers now that newspapers are obsolete and there's so many channels on TV. You can't pick the right ones to advertise on and with the web being so hit and miss
I'm actually going to answer this on behalf of KT. KT is not on Facebook, she does not tweet, she does not text, she does not e-mail… nor is she interested in any of the above. The only way she will even see this blog is if Steve prints out for her. When KT is doing a show, she sends out postcards the old-fashioned way AND with a personal note to each person she sends them to! THAT is a very special touch that is almost nonexistent today.

A Genie pops out of the lamp. He grants you three wishes. What are those three wishes?
A Broadway show and more of the same!

If you travel anywhere in the world and spend some time there, where would you choose and what would you do?
Italy. Steve has never been to Italy I would love to learn Italian songs, practice Italian, and bring my mother to Florence.

What would you ask God if you could right now?
What do you have in mind, God?

What is the last stage show you saw. Local professional?
Enchanted Island with Placido Domingo last week.

If you could change places with anyone in the world for 24 hours, who would that be and why?
Cleopatra. She lived a very interesting life, and she was very powerful.

When do you know it's time for KT Sullivan show?
I love doing a yearly show. I love the preparation. Learning new slants on material.

What do you see to the future of Cabaret?
Ships! Ships are craving the kind of entertainment that is thriving in Cabaret rooms. If we take these shows to audiences outside of New York, those audience will want to see us in New York. That too is a philosophy of Carol Channing's.

 Thank you, KT, for the gifts you give to the world! 


Please do what YOU can to be more aware that words and actions DO HURT...but they can also heal and help!
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Tomorrow's blog will be...BETTY BUCKLEY VS. RANDY JACKSON!

 Thank you, to all the mentioned in this blog!

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Richard Skipper,

with Bernie Bierman on his 99th Birthday!

1 comment:

  1. your blog is a wonderful cornucopia of experiences and anecdotes!