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Santa Claus Is Coming…
Karen Mason with “Christmas! Christmas! Christmas!”
54 Below, 254 West 54 Street
Opened December 10, 2012
Dec. 10, 17 at 7:00PM
Bob Renino on bass and on piano are Christopher Denny (Dec. 10 performance) and
James Followell (Dec. 17 performance).
Music Charge $25, $35. $25 food and beverage minimum
Closes December 17, 2012
Reviewed by Elizabeth Ahlfors December 10, 2012
Karen Mason. Photo by Carol Rosegg.
Whether it’s Christmas, Chanukah or Kwanza, just celebrate! Celebrate something -- life, good health, each other. That’s the advice from theater and cabaret favorite, Karen Mason. If this year has dealt you some nasty turns, or if your holidays are on the blue side or this is a stressful season over-crammed with gift-giving and must-do’s, here’s a solution. Get yourself to 54 Below, order a drink, sit back and listen to Karen Mason, an unaffected, affable powerhouse actress/singer with a voice that will shoot up your spirits. She will take you to a place where effervescence bubbles up like champagne. Her salute to the season, “Christmas! Christmas! Christmas!” is the best approach to curing the blues and blahs.
Glamorous in black and plenty of sparkles (check out the shoes), Mason opens her show with a slow-paced, sexy, salty, “You better watch out, you better not pout…” and goes on to warn, “Santa Claus Is Coming…(significant pause)…to Town,” Backing her with a lazy saucy swing are Christopher Denny on piano and Bob Renino’s bass. One of the most lyrically astute vocalists, Mason relishes each word, biting into “naughty” and giving “nice” a smooth silkiness. The trio wrings out all the juice they can get from the traditional season evergreen, and they are off to a merry start.
Tied together neatly is a jolt of energy after a thoughtful snippet of, “What the World Needs Now” before bouncing with, “We Need a Little Christmas” and “It’s Today,” from “Mame.” Mason evokes the drama in each song, whether the sentimental memories of, “A Christmas Song” with Mason’s sharp snap with words like “nipping,” emphasizing “lots” in “lots of toys” and chuckling at, “if reindeer really know how to fly.” Mason reminds us that “It'll Be Christmas Before You Know It,” a new holiday favorite and with Denny and Renino, “Winter Wonderland” and “Let It Snow” become madcap adventures, racing and swinging and galloping with fresh new rhythms in old chestnuts.
Directed by Barry Kleinbort, the show is crisp with segments of up-tempo, nostalgia, and comedy. In “Not This Christmas,” Kleinbort adds his own lyrics to Brian Lasser’s original rules about what not to give Mason for Christmas. Examples, “No low-cut lingerie in 50 shades of gray,” “no low-cal cookbooks (just Paula Deen, y’all!),” and “no Lance Armstrong racing tips.” Kleinbort also added updated lyrics to the playful, “I Eat.” This was originally written by Lasser for Mason’s one-woman show “One Tough Cookie.” Mason is currently developing another one-woman show, “Unfinished Business,” a tribute to Brian Lasser, her late friend and composer.
The theatrical element in Karen Mason’s shows is evident. While she fell in love with standards as a child, Mason is busy in theatre productions like “Wonderland” and was nominated for a 2002 Drama Desk award as Best Actress for the role of Tanya in Abba's “Mamma Mia!” She appeared as Norma Desmond in “Sunset Boulevard,” Velma von Tussel in “Hairspray,” and “Jerome Robbins’ Broadway.” This season, Mason was cast as Mrs. Danvers in “Rebecca” before the show was suddenly cancelled, but here, she performed her character’s standout song, “Rebecca,” a high-octane show-stopper. She has been busy off-Broadway (“And the World Goes ‘Round”) and (“Karen Mason Sings Broadway, Beatles and Brian”) and regional theatre, television (“Law and Order: SVU”) and concert halls around the world.
She has a special affinity for cabaret and an impressive personal connection with her cabaret audience. She presents her music like conversations about her life and feelings and since the holiday season is not all candlelight and poinsettias, Mason does not hesitate to dive headlong into songs that often slash into of the holiday gaiety. She remembered watching “Meet Me in St. Louis” with her sister, both dissolving in tears to Judy Garland’s, “Have Yourself a Merry Little Christmas.” Most heart-rending was the vocal combination with Denny singing Joy to the World as Mason sings an aching, River by Joni Mitchell. Yet, even after the poignancy in “I’ll Be Home for Christmas,” the show obviously points out that there are always moments in life when:
“We need a little music,
need a little laughter,
need a little singing” (“Mame”)
Karen Mason reminds us of that holiday spirit.
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