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BWW Review: You'll Love MILES AND MILES AND MILES OF HEART by The Mabel Mercer Foundation

Natalie Douglas, Jeff Harnar, Marissa Mulder and KT Sullivan have a Valentine for you.

BWW Review: You'll Love MILES AND MILES AND MILES OF HEART by The Mabel Mercer Foundation

On February 14th the Mabel Mercer Foundation gave the world and lovers of music a brilliant Valentine by way of a filmed concert special that debuted on their YouTube channel starring four of the cabaret industry's most endearing (and enduring) talents, and while the shops around town have been selling discounted chocolates since the 15th, this special event is still streaming online, free of charge, for the rest of the week - and if there is any justice in the world, for longer.

Miles and Miles and Miles of Heart is one of the Mabel Mercer Foundations new in-house concerts - concerts Sullivan has spearheaded during a time when live entertainment is a complicated matter, but that this writer believes should continue, even after clubs reopen and audiences are applauding the performers in person, once more. Ms. Sullivan and her colleagues are creating something once found on PBS or in the early days of A&E or Bravo, before the networks turned to reality television for their bread and butter. The Mabel Mercer Foundation concerts are REAL reality television, in a world where reality means the necessity for artists and artistry, for music and meaning, for the history of show business and the future of entertainment. There will never be a time when this type of music is not valid, when it is not essential, or when this breed of talent is not valuable - and specials like this are regular proof of just that.

With simple but effective lighting that makes everyone seen on camera look pretty (including Donald Smith, by way of a caricature hanging on the wall behind a white baby grand) and sophisticated sound design, the look and design of the evening is kept straightforward, to assist in the ease of enjoying the performers - and with Jon Weber at the keyboard for most of the show, the artists can relax into their own work at interpreting the musical morsels of goodness, almost all of them from a time ruled by Cole Porter, Rodgers and Hammerstein, Hoagy Carmichael and Sammy Cahn. That is, of course, not an absolute since Natalie Douglas is on the bill, and with Natalie Douglas will always come more modern works, works once sung by the likes of Shirley Bassey and Roberta Flack. So you see, there is, in this special, something for everyone - and those tuning in for Cole Porter will love the Roberta Flack and those in for Shirley Bassey will adore the Noel Coward. No fast forwarding needed here.

I mean, WHY would anyone fast forward through Marissa Mulder? Looking lovely in her red velvet cocktail frock, giving her best with the unique and pleasant sound created by the timbre of her voice, the tenacity of her diction, and the rolling rhythm of her cadence, Mulder molds mirth around the set with her cheeky flirtations with the camera, the television audience, Weber and the delectable pieces she has chosen to perform. Indeed, Marissa's set on the show resembles a musical plate of petits fours with "Come Fly With Me" acting as the perfect opener for the program and "Chase Me Charlie" serving as the sassiest. Watching Ms. Mulder in this special made this writer the saddest he has, yet, been about the clubs being closed, and the second they reopen I will be looking for her next club dates.

Recent Broadway World Award winner and eternally youthful Jeff Harnar has a chance in the concert to show why he deserves the awards he won, indeed, why he deserves the career he has had. Working alongside his longtime musical director Alex Rybeck, Mr. Harnar presents a show within a show because while the evening is, ostensibly, a Valentine's Day show full of love songs, once Harnar hits the scene, the mood changes, and at-home viewers get to see what they would get if they were in a club with Jeff. It's such a pleasure listening to him talk about the trivia of the songwriters and the songs because when an expert on a topic speaks on the subject for which they have passion and information, it can be rather exciting, quite stimulating. Harnar's ardor shines through in every anecdote, in each factoid, and all the musical notes. Thankfully, the sound design on the show is so splendid that Jeff Harnar doesn't have to hold back; he is permitted the luxury of singing full-voiced, as he would in a club, that impressive and powerful belt of his on display for all to observe, while the sound designer adjusts the microphone according to the power behind each individual note. Especially rewarding in their set is Rybeck and Harner providing a spellbinding McGuire Sisters arrangement, then turning around and melting your heart with a bona fide Valentine song ... a funny valentine song.

Natalie Douglas taking her place at the mic, there is a dawning realization that everyone coordinated their outfits for the show - not by color, but by texture: the camera gives every indication that velvet was the order of the day with Marissa choosing red, Jeff opting for burgundy, KT favoring purple, and Natalie embracing blue. It's a sumptuous feast of tactile textiles, allowing us to use one more of our five senses in the enjoyment of the show. As for Douglas herself, the incomparable storytelling skills for which she is respected are in the house as she proves, for the second time in recent memory, that the movie camera was made for her - and vice versa. Often, a stage performer must be a bit bigger than life, to communicate their story to the people in the back row, and sometimes that larger-than-the-camera quality may not translate to the screen. This is not the case with Natalie Douglas. The containment of emotional content in her musical performance aligns perfectly with needs of onscreen viewing, only becoming as big as her on-stage work when the emotions overflow organically from the vessel containing them, as witnessed on the afore-mentioned Roberta Flack number. It's official: the camera eats Natalie Douglas. That's a good thing, by the way.

As outstanding as Misses Douglas and Mulder are, though, as spectacular as Misters Harnar, Rybeck and Weber are, though, there can be no denying the exquisite gift that is KT Sullivan. Whether she is acting as precious and priceless host of the evening, painting pictures with rhetoric on the topic of students and teaching, or showing her most vulnerable heart in a Carol Hall love song dedicated to her husband, Ms. Sullivan is one of the most unique and original people ever to be seen on a stage, on a screen, or on 9th Avenue heading to the Mabel Mercer offices. Her story about Larry Hart's chauvinism and her impression of Maurice Chevalier are, alone, worth calling up this special (and making a donation to the Mabel Mercer Foundation - not to put too fine a point on that matter). Whether singing, talking, hosting or administrating, KT Sullivan is so wonderfully delightful, so deliciously eccentric, so radiantly romantic, that when she is within one's eyesight, it is impossible to tear oneself away. Watching the special yesterday found this writer with visions of KT Sullivan and Julie Halston as the two Aunties in Arsenic and Old Lace dancing in my head - wouldn't that be fun. Alas, Sullivan has her sights set, firmly, on the world of cabaret - her love for the art form is so definitive as to render her a velvet bulldozer paving the way for the artists to traverse an easier pavement, and the fabled history of the art to grow into a more resolute future.

With online shows like MILES AND MILES AND MILES OF HEART issuing forth from The Mabel Mercer Foundation, Sullivan and her band of merry music makers will keep cabaret alive and kicking for a good long time to come.

Thank goodness.

Addendum: KT Sullivan has informed Broadway World Cabaret that the audio/visual artist on this film is Chinua Thomas.

Visit The Mabel Mercer Foundation website to see the special (until February 21st!) and make donations (any time during the year) by clicking HERE

Or see MILES AND MILES AND MILES OF HEART until February 21st on YouTube below:

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