by Myra Chanin
Karen King, for many years known as the wife, business and writing partner of the late John “Cha Cha” Ciarcia – the unofficial Mayor of Mulberry Street – is, in her own right, a voluptuous, multi-talented singer/songwriter/performer who returned to the Manhattan club scene last week with a new live concert show before a packed house in the popular Cutting Room and delighted the crowd.
Karen, a pretty, statuesque blonde with a red-hot momma big booming voice and a warm, vivacious and friendly personality, is a beloved mainstay of New York’s Italian-American community who filled The Cutting Room to support her. Vinnie Pastore, the “Big Pussy,” of The Sopranos — the Soprano who sang to the Feds, MC’d Karen’s show. Her good friend Tony Danza was there as well. Karen’s late husband, “Cha Cha,” who had instantly understood that Danza’s good looks would “get asses into seats,” had managed Danza’s boxing career. Karen is also a Mulberry Street entrepreneur and is now managing the Cha Cha’s in Bocca Al Lupo restaurant and their latest acquisition, Alleva Dairy, the cheese and appetizing shop also on Mullberry Street, which was originally opened by Cha Cha’s grandmother in 1892.
Karen’s musical career actually began with her singing as a child for eight years in a church choir, before following in the footsteps of her mother, a professional singer. Mabel King, the star of the sitcom What’s Happening, mentored her. She trained with vocal coaches Carlo Manotti, Benny Martini and Barry Levitch and also studied drama and theater at Queens College with coaches Sondra Lee and Felice Schacter. More recently, Karen enjoyed a successful off-Broadway run of a one-woman show she created, The Original American Idol, based on the life of legendary singer Kate Smith who Karen portrayed. .
At The Cutting Room, wearing a glittering black and gold top over black slacks, she gave her all to an eclectic set of jazz and classic Great American Songbook favorites, an Elvis Presley medley and several of her personal favorite ballads composed by Charles Aznavour — “Yesterday When I Was Young,” “If You Go Away,” and “She“ – – all continental ballads which she might approach in a more laid back fashion.
Karen opened the show with a powerful “From This Moment On,” followed by “A Nightingale Sang in Berkeley Square,” which she touchingly dedicated to “Cha Cha” because it let her recall how she felt the night they met. “Payback is a Bitch,” was a hot Rock and Roll number she composed as a theme song for a movie script she and “Cha Cha” penned. Her Elvis Presley medley contained bits of every hit Elvis ever sung and wowed the audience because they were the melodies to which they had fallen in love. Everyone loved her passion on the songs drawn from their Italian heritage like “Sleep Softly Love.” Her encore, “This is My Life,” was equally well received.