It is a joyous experience to hear Karen Mason, who is displaying her skills as a seasoned entertainer on Sundays and Mondays during March at the popular cabaret setting Don’t Tell Mama. Mason is commanding, whether piping up the belting, smoothly connoting sentiment, spicing the performance with dashes of comedy or simply making a personal connection with her audience.
She starts the show blazingly with “Something’s Coming,” the Stephen Sondheim-Leonard Bernstein message of hope from “West Side Story.” She soon gets intimate delving into nostalgia with a recollection of how she sang back in 1982 in the opening program of Don’t Tell Mama. Then comes a comic zinger over the loud speaker, as we hear how she was announced, “Don’t Tell Mama is proud to present—Karen Akers.” Her handling of the error with good humor quickly builds rapport.
But her singing is what makes the strongest connection, as when she performs “Almost Like Being in Love” (Lerner and Loewe), “How Long Has This Been Going On?” (George and Ira Gershwin) and “Happy Just to Dance with You” (John Lennon and Paul McCartney). All three show her range. She also demonstrates how tender she can be with “I Made a New Friend” (Brian Lasser).
Mason is terrific when she shows her comic side. She rips into “Murder! He Says” (Jimmy McHugh and Frank Loesser), having a ball with the lyrics, making the song very funny, more than just a plunge into frenzy. And she puts a freshly humorous, saucy bounce into the chestnut “Diamonds Are a Girl’s Best Friend” (Jule Styne and Leo Robin). I especially like her interpretation of “Being Alive” (Stephen Sondheim) from “Company.”
Mason tells us how she was standby for the lead in the Broadway musical “Sunset Boulevard.” Then she dramatically sets the scene and the mood for “As If We Never Said Goodbye” (Don Black/Christopher Hampton, Andrew Lloyd Webber) and proceeds to deliver the number mesmerizingly, as she surely must of done when she went on in the show.
Among the other songs she handles well is “It’s About Time,” written by her husband, Paul Rolnick, and Shelly Markham.” Mason prefaces it with an explanation that since same sex marriages have been performed, she has assumed a new role—“as a wedding singer.” The song is a compelling number lovingly expressing feelings that the title “It’s About Time” suggests.
I wasn’t too thrilled about her choosing what she identifies as her new favorite, “Over the Rainbow" (Harold Arlen and E.Y.Harburg). She handles it well enough, but there is so much identifying with that song, that one is inviting comparisons by singing it.
But that’s just a blip. I heartily recommend attending Mason’s current show, as she proves herself one of the best, with a powerful or tender voice as the chosen number demands, and stature as a singer who makes a room glow with her enthusiastic presence. There was also excellent rapport with her musical director/arranger/pianist Christopher Denny. At Don’t Tell Mama, 343 West 46th Street, Sundays and Mondays in March. Phone: 212-757-0788. Reviewed March 10, 2015.