“Show Queen – Life After Wonderland“
Iridium – July 19
Wonderland, not a popular musical last season, has left the Marquis Theatre, but Karen Mason, one of its stars, remained on Broadway, albeit on a smaller stage and for one night only. As Mason said, “I have many homes.” On this night, her fans were glad to have this engaging personality with her playful charm and strong, expressive voice at her Iridium home for an evening of show tunes, ballads and original music.
Although Mason had previously performed “It Had to Be You” (Gus Kahn, Isham Jones), the 1920’s evergreen had not frequently been included in her songbook. Director Barry Kleinbort, however, wisely encouraged her to sing the song again here. It was the show’s highlight and a reminder of this performer’s versatility. Mason is truly more than a potent belter. Her total physical involvement with the song was dynamic and fun to watch, but more impressive was the stillness in her soft, spare rendition. In it she showed another Mason strength: her search for the depth in a simple, well-crafted song without descending to sentimentality. Sinking into the song, she inhabited the verses that are laden with passion. She enhanced the drama and intimacy, eschewing any phony catches or sobs in the voice. Her pauses added as much to the intent of the song as her vocals did. This popular song is often sung, but not usually as carefully considered. Karen Mason’s interpretation was as perfect and honest a rendition as you will hear, reaffirming its status as a classic.
Other ballads also reflected new depth and tenderness. Mason refreshed Billy Joel’s pop hit “[S]He’s Got a Way,” giving it a thoughtful sincerity. Her version of Barry Kleinbort’s “Time” demonstrated its universal sensitivity. Mason’s husband, Paul Rolnick, a writer of many beautiful songs, contributed the show’s compelling encore, “Right Here/Right Now.”
Mason’s rendition of Richard Rodgers and Oscar Hammerstein II’s “Mister Snow” was like a short story, telling of a satisfying, sweet romance. With precise diction she relished the deliciously comic lines, like “And fish is my fav’rite perfume.” She evoked the dreams of a young girl preparing for her upcoming marriage to that “big bewhiskered, overbearin’ darling, Mister Snow!”
One song Mason said she has sung in every show since the early ’90s was “Taking A Chance on Love” (John Latouche, Ted Fetter, Vernon Duke), and it was still a favorite, rousing with playfulness and humor. Her upbeat good cheer rang through “Just in Time” (Betty Comden, Adolph Green, Jule Styne) and “You’ve Got Possibilities” (Charles Strouse, Lee Adams). After singing “Finding Wonderland” (Frank Wildhorn, Jack Murphy) from Wonderland, Mason demonstrated why her own big, wickedly wonderful Wonderland number, “Off With Their Heads,” stole the show.
If it is Mason’s famous show-stopping, dynamic belt you came for, you got it. She included a favorite, a pairing of Harold Arlen and Ted Koehler’s “Stormy Weather” and “When the Sun Comes Out,” and closed with John Kander and Fred Ebb’s anthem, “Cabaret.” The program opened with the gritty excitement of Stephen Sondheim and Leonard Bernstein’s “Something’s Coming,” and that something was Karen Mason, full force, working the drama from soft expectations to a blazing lift-off.
There is not much room at the top of the heap but there is always a spot for the wide range of Karen Mason’s talent. Director Barry Kleinbort kept the energy flowing, and accompanist Christopher Denny, a keyboard wizard, added to the Mason Magic with strong chords and racing fingers.