BWW Review: SULLIVAN AND HARNAR SING HARNICK AND STROUSE Packs 'Em In at The Laurie Beechman Theatre
Let's not bury the lead: Get a ticket to this show.
Now that that's out of the way, let's talk about why.
It is easy to forget what an impact Sheldon Harnick and Charles Strouse have had on American Musical Theater, and as you sit in your seat at The Laurie Beechman, watching this show, you may find yourself saying "oh, I forgot about this song". Better still, you may find yourself saying "WHAT is this song?!" and then going home to buy it on iTunes. The show Sullivan and Harnar Sing Harnick and Strouse is a most comprehensive look at the works of both artists, yet not one of those boring lectures you had from your college Musical Theater Workshop professor -- indeed there is no lecture, no dialogue at all. Once you get past the pleasant welcome to the show, Ms. Sullivan and Mr. Harnar simply let the songs tell the story.
Well.... Not quite.
The thing is this: KT Sullivan and Jeff Harnar are masters at their craft. If you've ever watched a singer with a beautiful voice perform a song, but without the ability to present a story with that song, then you will appreciate the brilliance that is Ms. Sullivan and Mr. Harnar. Not only are they able to provide a history in the songs they are singing, with the guidance of their director, Sondra Lee, they are creating anecdotes audiences never knew existed. This dynamic duo has taken songs we have all heard before and given them fresh new interpretations, flipping the narrative on songs like "If I Were a Rich Man" and "I've Got a Lot of Livin' To Do", the result being an audience howling with laughter and sighing with love. Both in incredible voice, these actors are equal parts playful, earnest, cheeky, profound and naughty .. but MGM naughty - suggestive but not dirty, the naughtiest kind of naughty. The captivating couple are funny and fun, completely unafraid to go where they need to go to entertain, pulling bits of physical and facial comedy that would intimidate many other performers. Jeff and KT are there for us.
And they are there for each other. It is obvious how much the twosome enjoys one another's company, and the shorthand that they speak onstage is one that develops over time in a long friendship: that friendship is as much on display here as the venerated songwriters being showcased, and the talents that remind all why KT Sullivan and Jeff Harnar are, respectively, the Godmother and the Mayor of Cabaret. When Ms. Sullivan and Mr. Harnar sing the song "Do You Love Me?" to one another, there is no confusion: this is not a couple who are in love. This is the Will and Grace of cabaret, showing you what true friendship looks like. While Sullivan acts her head off during "One Halloween", Harnar stands in the shadow, devotedly observing the artistry with which she reinvents a hallowed piece of musical theater history; and Sullivan gazes lovingly (and laughs uproariously) as Harnar tears down The Beechman, armed only with a piano top and a feather boa, with "Garbage". The entire evening is a road map of how to create a picture perfect cabaret show with your family.
This family is made complete by the presence of musical director extraordinaire Jon Weber and director Sondra Lee, both of whom helped to shape the show and make it into an evening of theater in which a Jenga puzzle made up of an extreme number of songs becomes as fascinating and byzantine as an M.C. Escher drawing. With insanely intricate lyrics and wildly inventive arrangements, this fantastic foursome has succeeded in creating an entirely new one-act play each time the applause ends, making way for a new number and new tale -- and if that were not triumph enough, they have taken their artwork to a new level, simply and effectively leading by example.
Jeff Harnar is an out and proud gay man. Sullivan and Harnar sing Harnick and Strouse is a gender-bending, fluid evening in which both singers sing songs written for members of the opposite sex to sing, without switching pronouns, making it permissible, nay necessary, for Harnar to sing songs to a man. The first time it happens in this show, Harnar sings a medley of suggestive songs to the men in the audience, to hi-ho-larious effect. The point, though, is that a woman performing this number would also get laughs. The number is made funny, partially, by the fact that it is being sung by a man, but mostly it is made funny because Jeff Harnar is a damn fine actor. The second time Harnar stepped forward to sing a song addressed to a man, it was a love song, yet the audience laughed loudly - until about half-way through the number when they realized it wasn't a comedy bit, it was a tender love song, a serious moment in time. The third time Jeff Harnar sang a song addressed to a man, the audience gave it not a thought - they went with it because the gender of the artist singing had ceased to matter, it had become incidental. With these three presentations, Sullivan, Harnar, Weber and Lee have changed the perceptions of the people in the audience, have broadened their minds and cast a light on truth - the purpose of every artistic endeavor.
If everything you have read up to this point has not convinced you to get yourself out of the house and to midtown Manhattan to see this theatrical event, I can only confine myself to saying that the tour-de-force performance Jeff Harnar gives with "Vanilla Ice Cream", and the mere sound of KT Sullivan singing "Once Upon a Time", alone, are worth the price of admission.
There is a reason the duo Sullivan and Harnar is so popular. In fact, there are many. All of them are on display right now at The Laurie Beechman Theatre. So just take my advice, take my word for it, and just go.
Photos by Stephen Mosher