Musical Direction by Christopher Denny
Reviewed by David Roberts
Theatre Reviews Limited
First things first: Karen Mason’s appearance at Don’t Tell Mama in March is an iconic seventy minutes not to be missed. Since opening the main room at Don’t Tell Mama thirty-three years ago with Nancy LaMott, Karen Mason’s career has become iconic with stellar performances on Broadway, in movies, and on cabaret stages around the world. Ms. Mason has always been a force to be reckoned with and her current run at Don’t Tell Mama is no exception. Her voice is as strong and big (her description) as ever. Her ability to interpret a lyric and own it is incomparable and always remarkable and her vocal control is beyond comparison. Her placement of notes is deliberate and the interpretative choices she makes are always impeccable. Accompanied by the incomparable Christopher Denny and directed by Barry Kleinbort, Karen Mason’s “Mason at Mama’s in March” is a tour de force from start to finish.
There are priceless pairings of songs and near miraculous mashups in Ms. Mason’s song list. Additionally, the evening pays tribute to longtime friend and arranger Brian Lasser who died in 1992. The show opens with the same pairing when Ms. Mason opened the main room with Nancy Lamott, both arranged by Mr. Lasser. The memories surrounding the performance of “Something’s Coming” (Leonard Bernstein/Stephen Sondheim) from “Westside Story” and “Almost Like Being in Love” (Frederick Loewe/Alan Jay Lerner) from “Brigadoon” were palpable and this fitting start to the night captured the attention of the already adoring audience and secured their adulation throughout the performance.
Another pairing – on a lighter and comedic note – was “Murder, He Says” (Jimmy McHugh and Frank Loesser) and “Diamonds Are A Girl’s Best Friend” (Jule Styne/Leo Robin) both of which were delivered with perfect timing and appropriate comedic flair. A third pairing – “Lorna’s Here” and “I Want To Be With You” (Charles Strouse from the 1964 musical, “Golden Boy.”) were audience favorites. Nostalgia and comedy were not the only themes in “Mason at Mama’s.” There were songs of romance, longing, and pure joy celebrating the vicissitudes of the human experience.
Highlights of the “songbook” included “How Long Has This Been Going On” (George Gershwin); “Happy Just To Dance With You” (John Lennon/Paul McCartney); “I Made a New Friend” (Brian Lasser); “He Touched Me” (Ira Levin/Milton Schafer); and “As If We Never Said Goodbye” (Don Black, Christopher Hampton, and Andrew Lloyd Webber) which celebrated Karen /Mason’s performances in “Sunset Boulevard” on Broadway. It was almost chilling to watch the performer transform herself to the character she played over 200 times. For just a moment she was again Norma Desmond and it was as if no matter how long it had been since we last saw Karen Mason it was as if we had never said goodbye.
The second mashup – the Beatles’ “Help” into Sondheim’s “Being Alive” – was a resounding success and counterpointed the emotional content of both songs with perfection. The last thing the audience wanted to do was say goodbye to friend, mentor, and diva Karen Mason. But the impact of the temporary farewell was lessened with the encore pieces “It’s About Time” (honoring marriage equality) written by her husband, Paul Rolnick and Shelley Markham and what Ms. Mason described as her new favorite song “Over the Rainbow” (Harold Arlen/E. Y. Harburg). Again, Karen owned this iconic song with her own understanding of how fantasy and hope can become blessed reality.
Surely, Nancy and Brian were “eavesdropping” on the performance –perhaps when the “circle of light” appeared during one of Karen’s numbers. The audience was appreciative of their ethereal visit and transformed by the performance of the ever so authentic and present Karen Mason.