Review: Stacy Sullivan, Guided by History and Weather, at the Metropolitan Room
By STEPHEN HOLDENAPRIL 6, 2015
Growing up in the part of Oklahoma nicknamed Tornado Alley, the singer Stacy Sullivan waited for 22 years without seeing a funnel cloud, she recalled on Saturday evening at the Metropolitan Room. The combination of fear and excitement that the anticipation of heavy weather can stir up was the driving force behind her audacious, often thrilling new show, her second in less than six months.
Named after the Judy Collins song “Since You’ve Asked,” the show was a meteorologically themed family history that spanned several generations. A description of a journey from Oklahoma to California and back suggests “The Grapes of Wrath” in reverse. As she related her story, Ms. Sullivan, who bears a marked vocal resemblance to the sultry jazz singer Helen Merrill, suggested a musical answer to Ma Joad, stretching cabaret into previously unexplored territory.
Ms. Sullivan’s two previous shows — tributes to the singer Peggy Lee and the pianist Marian McPartland — were comparatively conventional. In “Since You’ve Asked,” she is accompanied by an excellent folk-pop trio led by Troy Fannin, a gifted guitarist and arranger with whom she reconceived familiar material in astounding ways. There was the good-timey version of the Hoagy Carmichael-Johnny Mercer standard, “How Little We Know.” Randy Newman’s “I Think It’s Going to Rain Today” tugged against Woody Guthrie’s “This Land Is Your Land.”
The Johnny Nash hit “I Can See Clearly Now” was infused with the uncertainty and terror of a narrator who doubts its clearsighted optimistic message. “The A Team,” Ed Sheeran’s scary portrait of a young woman succumbing to drug addiction, revolved around the ominous observation, “The worst things in life come free to us/’Cause we’re just under the upper hand.”
For Ms. Sullivan, the show was such a giant leap into the unknown, and there were bound to be rough edges in its first public performance. But her warmth, honesty and sense of humor made this rugged journey by covered wagon toward a silver lining of wisdom and acceptance a fulfilling experience.
Stacy Sullivan appears on May 21 at the Metropolitan Room, 34 West 22nd Street, Flatiron district; 212-206-0440, metropolitanroom.com.
A version of this review appears in print on April 7, 2015, on page C5 of the New York edition with the headline: Guided by Climate, Retold Through Cabaret. Order Reprints| Today’s Paper|Subscribe