By Kathleen France
Everyone knows the Sullivans, an entire family whose members possess so much talent, they could form their own group and take their show on the road! But tonight at Feinstein's, the evening belonged to Heather Sullivan, and the whole family, along with droves of other supportive fans, showed up to hear their very own Piano Girl take the stage. With the exception of the opening number, "Piano Man" by Billy Joel, this was an evening devoted to female musicians, and Heather paid tribute to some of her favorites through the ages.
She was joined by her music director and bass player Mark Peterson and John Di digiulio on drums, but it was Heather who took the spotlight, and no one could take their eyes off of her as she played piano and emoted the feeling of the lyrics in her own interpretive style.
I always know that a show is great when the entire thing flies by and I never want the music to end. The entire crowd was begging for more, and I would have gladly sat there another hour, just to listen. Heather, in my opinion, has one of the most interesting voices on the cabaret circuit. Describing it hardly does it justice, because you must hear her voice in person to understand its unique characteristics and colors. Heather's vocal quality has a soothing, sweet innocence to it, but at times she adds in a little forward grit, or aspirate rasp to her tonality, which provides a sensual edge or a tender vulnerability to her sound. She is also excellent at interpretation, often changing the melodic line to make the song her own, or provide a different take or supply more emphasis on a particular lyric. Her musicality shines through in this show, particularly in some of her arrangements. The song "Empire State of Mind" by Alicia Keys, Jane Ulepic Sewell, Alexander William Shuckburgh, Shawn Carter, Sylvia Robinson, Angela Hunte and Bert Keyes, was a song I had heard a million times on the radio, but I had never actually heard and understood the lyrics until I heard her sing it. She also did an excellent Nina Simone version of the song "My Way," with lyrics by Paul Anka and music by Claude Francois and Jacques Revaux.
Heather also paid tribute by allowing additional artists to perform with her on stage. Elisabeth Sullivan, her mother and the first piano girl in Heather's life, came up to perform an original song she had written called "Chimes." The mother-daughter duo were a huge hit. Later in the show, her friend Daryl Sherman joined her on piano with one of Heather's favorite Blossom Dearie favorites "Peel Me a Grape." This was my favorite song in the show. It was sensual, sexy, and hot! This show had a lot of great moments. Heather opened with a Carole King Medley of songs that got the audience going and made them sing along. Heather joked that she "didn't need backup singers 'cause she had us." She also did a really fun version of the Joni Mitchell song "Big Yellow Taxi," that had us dancing in our seats.
Heather Sullivan is an amazing artist, whether it be composing, arranging, playing, singing, or even taking photos of many performers in the cabaret community; she takes on everything with an eye and an ear for beauty and creativity. It pours out of her, and you feel the love she has for her craft, her attention to detail. Many artists come so close to breaking through to fame, and although Heather has had a great deal of success in the industry, she shared a story with us about working diligently to compose the perfect theme song for a movie. The producers cut the song at the last minute, and after coming so close, it was a heartbreaking reminder of the challenges faced in an industry that has so many talented people almost make it big. All of these piano girls, from her mother as a young child, to the incredible artists that influenced her growing up, to her talented friends in the industry - all of these people helped to mold and shape Heather into the talented, special artist that she is today. For her encore, she performed her original song "Autumn Rains," the would-be movie theme song, and all of us watching found it to be a huge hit.