How's it feel to celebrate the 33rd Anniversary of midtown Manhattan's longest running cabaret room with a 10-performance packed-to-the-gills homecoming gig by Broadway star Karen Mason, who, in 1982, when she was an up and coming wannabe, opened the showroom at Don't Tell Mama before moving onward and upward to Mamma Mia and Sunset Boulevard, singing with symphonic orchestras, filling Performing Arts Centers with (gasp!) paying patrons, etc. etc. all over the globe? Having Karen Mason sing her warm and welcoming heart out every Sunday and Monday night at 7 p.m. during the merry month of March 2015 was serendipitous, and way beyond Sidney Myer's wildest dreams! Sidney Myer, the Yiddish mama who books the entertainment at Don't Tell Mama hasn't stopped kvelling about Karen's shows honoring the club's longevity. Who ever dreamed his Don't Tell Mama would survive more years on earth than those allotted to Jesus, Mozart, Belushi or the evil Evas, Braun and Peron, who all, per Wikipedia, departed this vale of tears at age 33.
Rather than wither the fabulous Ms. Mason, age has embellished her infinite variety. She still looks, sings and charms with enough brio for a gaggle of gals in their mid-30s. Don't believe me? Listen to what I was told by the absolute stranger sitting cheek to cheek with me on the packed black leather banquette, and turned out to be the Tony-nominated, award-winning you-name-it-and-he's-done-it-and-done-it-well Lee Roy Reams. He poked my brachium as Karen was belting out the "Sunset Boulevard" showstopper, "As If We Never Said Goodbye," and declared, "This is not a performance. It's a master class!" It certainly was.
Karen's long dark tresses are now trim, sleek and gloriously golden blonde, a design decision accentuated by her gold sequin chemise. Her gorgeous new look reminds me of actress Robin Wright, who's become a superstar in midlife as the First Lady of Netflix's House of Cards. Karen's buttery voice enchants and interacts with everyone listening -- singly or en masse. To Karen, size doesn't matter. She gives her all, regardless of whether she's performing in a vast symphony hall, in a Broadway theater or in this packed, 85-seat intimate club. Sidney Myer describes her as a musical Frank Buck, who brings 'em in alive over and over, with many attendees, also show biz boldface names, reserving seats for Karen's following week's performance for themselves and friends even as they're departing from Karen's current show. Even more amazing is that habitués of the Don't Tell Mama dining room and piano bar have been so intrigued by Karen's exit poll buzz, that they've been attending Karen's shows, which Sidney says is "unheard of!"
Karen's song list is a best of breed compilation, which ranges from Broadway musical giants like Arlen, Bernstein, Gershwin, Lerner, Sondheim, Strouse and Styne, to genuine British Royalty with two knights -- Sir Andrew Webber and Sir Paul McCarthy, and a self-made Duke, first name, Vernon. She also pays respects to our own New York contemporary songwriters by singing songs by the late Brian Lasser -- who was her own musical director for many years -- the very present Barry Kleinbort and most present of all, her husband Paul Rolnick, whose work continues to turn Karen on enough that she allows him to share her life, her love and her time.
Paul Rolnick wrote the lyrics to a Shelly Markham tune, which I consider the most unforgettable song I've hard in the last five years. It's called "It's About Time," and was written to be sung at a recent marriage of a gay couple by Karen, and it's led into a new career for her as a wedding singer. It's the "Oh, Promise Me" of sexual marital equality and 500 times better. I can't get the melody out of my head and Paul Rolnick's refrain always melts my heart;
It's about a love that is meant to last forever
It's about a life that leaves nothing left behind
It's about all the time that we have left together
It's about love. It's about life. It's about time.
And it applies to everyone who loves enough to take the plunge into commitment.
Her encore of Over The Rainbowwas the first time I've ever heard this song without thinking of Judy Garland.
To paraphrase the immortal Cy Coleman -- Carolyn Leigh ballad, Karen Mason has had many wonderful years, but I think her best years are yet to come.
March 29th and 30th are the last two dates to see Karen's show at Don't Tell Mama, but rumors have reached me that an extension is in the works. Karen Mason is a great artist and a delightful human being performing a show you shouldn't miss. It's about love. It's about life. It's about time.
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