By Brian Scott Lipton . . .
When she was about five years old, Karen Mason’s family moved from New Orleans to St. Louis, where her father promptly put his beloved “Joyeux Noel” sign in the house’s window. Unfortunately, the new neighbors didn’t know the meaning of the phrase and promptly asked for its removal – until they were informed it was simply French for “Merry Xmas.” Problem solved and a new tradition was born.
For many New Yorkers, their own “new” tradition began the first time they saw Mason’s annual Christmas! Christmas! Christmas! show and discovered no holiday season felt complete without it – which is just one of many reasons 2021 felt so empty for a lot of us. Thankfully, Mason has brought back this incredible show for a short run at the Laurie Beechman Theatre. And, for at least an hour, all feels right in the world again.
The show is like an expensive diamond, with brilliance in every facet. Mason – bedecked here in a super-sparkly red jumpsuit — knows how to deliver both indelible new takes on old classics, such as her sultry version of “Santa Claus Is Coming to Town” or an ultra-romantic “Let It Snow,” as well as beautiful and, yes, traditional renditions of such staples as “The Christmas Song” and “I’ll Be Home for Christmas.”
She can make us smile broadly with a divinely exuberant version of the 1940 standard “Taking A Chance on Love” (featuring some extraordinary accompaniment by bassist Tom Hubbard); laugh uproariously with the ever-updated “Not This Christmas!” (co-written by her gifted director, Barry Kleinbort, and the late-great Brian Lasser); or even make us shed a tear with a heartbreaking rendition of Joni Mitchell’s gorgeous, melancholy “River” (here sung in counterpoint with the carol, “Joy to the World,” performed by her longtime musical director Christopher Denny.)
Mason also has the rare ability to transform an oft-performed song into something that feels fresh and heartfelt, whether it’s stripping the sentimentality from the cabaret standard “If I Ruled the World” (a song I freely admit I have never liked) or finding all the beauty of “Silent Night” in a way that both honors its religious content and also makes it seem like a universal prayer for peace.
Indeed, if you want to spend “the sweetest of nights” – to quote part of the title of one of her final songs — and guarantee yourself a “Joyeux Noel,” then go see the incomparable Karen Mason!
Christmas! Christmas! Christmas! continues at The Laurie Beechman Theater at The West Bank Café (407 West 42nd Street) through December 19. Visit ovationtix.com or call 212-695-6909 for tickets and information.
Photos: Gene Reed