By Ron Fassler . . .

Karen Mason, the recipient of ten MAC Awards, the highest honor for cabaret performers, certainly knows her way around a small stage (and bigger ones as well). She is a veteran of Broadway shows such as Jerome Robbins’ Broadway, Mamma Mia!, Hairspray and Sunset Boulevard, in which she stood by and went on for Glenn Close as Norma Desmond. Last night at Birdland, she performed a show dedicated to John Kander and Fred Ebb, the longest running continuous composer-lyricist team in Broadway history. The timing is ripe what with Kander not only turning ninety-six last week, but in rehearsals for his sixteenth Broadway musical, New York, New York, beginning previews at the St. James this Friday. Mason’s connection to the team goes back to And the World Goes ‘Round, a 1991 off-Broadway revue of their songs that help put its director Scott Ellis and choreographer Susan Stroman on the map as well as its five-person cast that featured Robert Cuccioli, Brenda Pressley, Jim Walton and Karen Ziemba. It allowed Mason the chance to belt out such classics as “Colored Lights” and “How Lucky Can You Get,” both of which she performed with distinction in her Birdland show.

If the belt isn’t what it was thirty years ago, Mason is still in control of her instrument. She certainly nailed every ballad, especially with “And the World Goes ‘Round” which stopped the show. “Maybe This Time” proved a perfect song for her, as it combines her story telling abilities with her calm sensitivity. She’s really not one for “selling” a song. She doesn’t have to. She makes you come to her, as most great artists have the knack to do.

Mason keeps the evening conversational even in song, put to good use in her interpretation of the anthem “New York, New York.” Instead of brimming with confidence, she expressed an insecurity that turned the song on its head, making it more “maybe I can do this” instead of “I’ve got this one in the bag.” Backed by her longtime pianist and musical director, Christopher Denny, she also received able accompaniment from Ritt Henn on bass. Barry Kleinbort directed, as he has numerous times in collaboration with Mason and Denny, which makes for an ease and shorthand evident in its construction.

There was one wonderfully spontaneous moment to report that occurred on stage last night. Introducing a song she was going to sing from Kander and Ebb’s 2015 musical The Visit, Mason introduced its star who was in the audience. The not unexpected ovation for Chita Rivera—the definition of Broadway royalty—was so tender and genuine that it kind of threw Mason for a loop. So much so, that when she began the ballad “Love and Love Alone,” she forgot the lyrics and had to start over. But it was so real and emotional that it endeared her to us all over again.

Karen Mason and Chita Rivera

Karen Mason: Kander & Ebb & All That Jazz played March 20th at Birdland (315 West 44th Street, between Eighth and Ninth Avenues). For information on more shows go to

Photos: Maryann Lopinto