Karen Mason: 30… And Counting

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Karen Mason

30… And Counting

Chelsea Table & Stage, NYC, September 28, 2023

Reviewed by Bart Greenberg

Karen Mason
Photo: Gene Reed

Karen Mason makes it all look so easy. She brings so much joy to the stage. Her current show is a celebration of her 30-year collaboration with music director Christopher Denny (though it’s now 31 years). Bassist Tom Hubbard joined in the fun, and the entire evening was under the direction of the gifted Barry Kleinbort. The love among these people radiated from the stage and brought the audience into their intimate circle. It’s not just that Mason’s voice is as powerful and fluid as ever, that she brings her excellent acting talents to her material, or that her sense of humor is abundantly and comfortably displayed; it is also that she is so generous with her talents and offers them to her audience as a glorious present.

The evening highlighted Mason’s lengthy and varied career in both cabaret and musical theater. She announced that if such holidays as World Mosquito Day and World Sneak Some Zucchini on to Your Neighbor’s Porch Day (yes, a real thing) existed, then she had every right to celebrate her career and accomplishments with her team. The evening also featured works by the most important men in her life—including her first collaborator, Brian Laster—who was represented by his charming song, “I Made a New Friend,” as well as her record producer, songwriter, and husband Paul Rolnick (“Talkin’ to the Moon” written with Jane R. Snyder). There were also several songs by her director, the very moving “Time” (with composer Joseph Thaiken) and a hysterical parody that used the music of Lerner and Loewe’s “Show Me,” which he transformed into a personal piece that reflected Mason’s role in the quickly closing musical Wonderland entitled “Show Queen,” which played off the multiple meanings of the title. Mason also offered a moving rendition of her number from that musical, “Finding Neverland.”

Among the other highlights of the evening (there were really no lowlights) were “Lorna’s Here”/“I Want to Be with You,” a great example of the magic of stillness; a playful and jazzy interaction between Mason and Hubbard on “Taking a Chance on Love”; and an unlikely bittersweet combination of “On Broadway” and “Broadway Baby.” Another brilliant surprise was the merging of the Beatles “Help!” and Sondheim’s “Being Alive” to create a dramatic one-act play. The on-stage trio had great fun bouncing around on “The 59th St. Bridge Song,” and then the star closed the evening with a lovely “Love Is Here to Stay.” The audience’s love for Karen Mason will never end.

Bart Greenberg

Bart Greenberg first discovered cabaret a few weeks after arriving in New York City by seeing Julie Wilson and William Roy performing Stephen Sondheim and Cole Porter outdoors at Rockefeller Center. It was instant love for both Ms. Wilson and the art form. Some years later, he was given the opportunity to create his own series of cabaret shows while working at Tower Records. "Any Wednesday" was born, a weekly half-hour performance by a singer promoting a new CD release. Ann Hampton Callaway launched the series. When Tower shut down, Bart was lucky to move the program across the street to Barnes & Noble, where it thrived under the generous support of the company. The series received both The MAC Board of Directors Award and The Bistro Award. Some of the performers who took part in "Any Wednesday" include Barbara Fasano and Eric Comstock, Tony Desare, Andrea Marcovicci, Carole Bufford, the Karens, Akers, Mason and Oberlin, and Julie Wilson. Privately, Greenberg is happily married to writer/photographer Mark Wallis, who as a performance artist in his native England gathered a major following as "I Am Cereal Killer."