Mason at Mama’s in March

 

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Review by Joe Regan Jr.

 

Karen Mason, who opened the big room at Don’t Tell Mama 33 years ago with her long time musical director-composer Brian Lasser, has returned to the totally refurbished room (now with mirrored walls where once was leather and pleather) to celebrate that anniversary, this time with Musical Director Christopher Denny and director Barry Klienbort, in a series of Sundays and Mondays entitled “Mason at Mama’s In March.”

Mason, who above all is a superb actress and has one of the most powerful voices in the music world, opens big and strong with “Something’s Coming” and one wonders where the rest of the show will go after such a strong opening. Clad in a golden shirt and “pleather” pants, Mason tells us how she and Nancy LaMott were the attractions when the club opened under the management of Erv Raible and his partner Bob Hoskins. At the time, Mason describes her afro hair design and the gold lame suit she wore to the opening. She also mentions what opening night was when the soundperson introduced her as “Karen Akers.” “Karen Akers” becomes a running joke in this new show. Mason follows that strong opening with an equally strong “Almost Like Being In Love” but shifts gears to sing two ballads, “How Long Has This Been Going On” and a surprising Lennon/McCartney song “Happy Just To Dance With You.’

Throughout the show, Mason alternates between comic and rhythm numbers and tender ballads, all terrifically acted with great help from the lighting of Jason Ellis. There’s a wildly acted “Murder He Says” that is better than Betty Hutton’s and a long version of “Taking A Chance on Love” with several choruses I’d never heard.

At one point, she discusses her collaboration with Lasser. The good part of it was that she got to introduce his original songs which hadn’t been sung by Barbra Streisand! The bad part was that she shared with him intimate details of her personal life and she would find them suddenly in a new song. The song of his that she sings is a comic and tender “I Made a New Friend.” (The details of which I will leave to the cabaret lovers who should flock to this show to see what a great cabaret show is.)

At one point, she discusses an engagement at the Old Russian Tea Room where she and Lasser played. She had never sung this arrangement again and tonight she gifted us with the beautiful match up of “Lorna’s Here” and “I Want To Be With You.” It’s a consummate acting performance as well.

She and Denny also put together a slow version of “Help” blended into Sondheim’s “Being Alive.” You wouldn’t think it worked but it does to heart-breaking effect.

Mason brings up her three years of standing by and playing the part of Norma Desmond as the cover for Glenn Close, Betty Buckley, and Elaine Page. Ellis put a follow spot on her face as she related the dialogue with the lighting man on the DeMille set and we suddenly get the greatest version you will ever see of “As If We Never Said Goodbye.” Mason wipes away the memories of all three of those divas in her riveting acting of that song and her phrasing of that great number, muting down to the last lyric “We taught the world how to dream!”

Mason gets two encores. The first is about her new career as a wedding singer and the song that her husband Paul Rolnick and Shelly Markham wrote, the award winning “It’s About Time.” Needless to say, everyone stood up and cheered. The second encore is a muted version of “In My Life” which is a touching finish. Everyone should see this show because it is a master class on how an act should work and Mason, 33 years later, is better than ever!

“Mason at Mama’s In March” continues every Sunday and Monday in March at Don’t Tell Mama, 343 West 46 Street, For reservations, call 212 757-0788 after 4 PM daily or go to www.donttellmamanyc.com

Photos: Maryann Lopinto

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