KT Sullivan: Remembering Mabel

KT Sullivan

Cabaret veteran KT Sullivan tells us in her show at The Crazy Coqs of fascinating English cabaret artist Mabel Mercer who is hardly known here!


KT Sullivan

For anyone interested in cabaret and it’s history, this show is essential. Certainly, all cabaret artists and students should see it. KT Sullivan, one of America’s top cabaret performers, operatically trained and renowned for her cheeky humour, brings to London a show celebrating the life and work of English – yes, English!- cabaret artists, Mabel Mercer.

It is a disgrace that the work of Mabel Mercer is so little known, and even less celebrated here. Born in Burton-on Trent to a white Welsh music-hall artist and a black American jazz musician, whom she never met, Mabel was educated in a Convent school in Manchester. There she learned elocution, to which she attributed the secret of her success. By the 1930’s, she was widely admired by such luminaries as Cole Porter, F. Scott Fitzgerald and Ernest Hemmingway. Frank Sinatra openly acknowledged her influence on his technique and phrasing, and was to say of her that “Mabel Mercer taught me everything I know, she is the finest music teacher in the world” and that she was “the greatest cabaret singer of all time”.

KT Sullivan is now the artistic director of the Mabel Mercer Foundation, which provides resources and supports artists in various ways. She sings in Mabel’s style throughout the evening with diamond-crisp articulation, superlative phrasing and razor-sharp humour. Jerome Kern’s and lyricist Dorothy Field’s “Remind Me” and Bart Howard’s “Everybody’s Lookin’ (Around For An Angel)” particularly stood out. There was also a beautifully wistful rendition of “Once Upon A Time” by Charles Strouse and Lee Adams.

She teased us with a version of “Fly Me To the Moon” sung in ¾ time, rather than Sinatra’s 4/4 timing. This was how the song was originally written and, delivered in speech quality with KT’s soprano voice, the words sprang out anew. Mable Mercer was a cat-lover and Noel Coward’s “Chase Me Charlie” about cats in the garden was done in a style that paid tribute to Mabel’s early music-hall roots.
KT was subtly and beautifully accompanied by pianist William Zeffiro, who supplied additional vocals and indeed some original material. He sang his own humorous song “Lower Your Expectations” to the delight of the audience.

For a fresh interpretation of some well-known cabaret songs, combined with historical material rarely if ever heard now, and to find out more about our very own Mabel Mercer, you couldn’t do better than to see this show.

Fiona-Jane Weston

About Fiona Jane Weston

I am Fiona-Jane Weston and as well as being a performer myself (see website), I write reviews of and features on shows, mainly on the London cabaret and theatre scene. I have worked in theatre for many years, but decided to embark on a new direction in cabaret in 2009, when I produced 20th Century Woman: The Compact Cabaret. Not wanting to neglect my love of spoken word, particularly drama and verse, I made the conscious decision to include these elements in the programme, as well as wonderful songs, to tell the story of women's changing status and preoccupations throughout the 20th Century and up to now. I was invited to audition for the renowned Cabaret Conference at Yale, run by the late legendary Erv Raible, and that was thrilled to be one of only 26 accepted that year, where I was taught by the masters of the genre. Amanda McBroom (composer of the Bette Middler hit "The Rose" and the poignant "Errol Flynn"), Laurel Massé, original member of Manhattan Transfer, Sally Mayes, Tony Award nominees Sharon McNight and Tovah Feldshuh, and New York cabaret veteran Julie Wilson were all on the faculty. We were also treated to the musical direction of Alex Rybeck, Hubert Tex Arnold and the now late Paul Trueblood. With the benefit of their insightful teaching and great encouragement, I took my show to The Duplex in New York, where I was delighted with the response. Since then, I have produced Loving London: The Capital Cabaret, using the same format of songs, poetry and drama, in various London venues, including Leicester Square Theatre and The Crazy Coqs. 2014, the centenary of World War 1, saw the launch of Wartime Women: the Khaki Cabaret to a sellout house at St. James Theatre, London, garnering great notices, including from The Times and Musical Theatre Review. I have since been touring the show to Belgium and throughout the UK. I hope these reviews and interviews entertain and educate at the same time, and if please do leave comments in the box. It's great to engage in a conversation about the Arts. Fiona-Jane Weston
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2 Responses to KT Sullivan: Remembering Mabel

  1. Pingback: KT Sullivan and Karen Kohler: From Vienna to Weimar | Capital Cabarets And Other Shows Scene

  2. Pingback: Introducing, Fiona-Jane! | Excess All AreasExcess All Areas

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