“Two Worlds, One Voice”
Urban Stages Theatre – December 14
Piaf, Kurt Weill, the Broadway stage — singer and actress extraordinaire Sue Mathys does it all, casting a singular spell over the listener.
It is always a special treat when you see and hear a talented theatre and concert artist live. If, however, you take that large concert stage, shrink it down to dime size, bringing the performer a few feet closer, and you still get the same concert thrill, that’s rare, indeed. In an intimate proximity, the audience gets personally involved, critiquing the vocal tone and appreciating the facial and body language, the emotion, the eyes. Occasionally, when you are lucky, the group becomes caught up together in the enchantment, and then you have been invited to a truly marvelous party.
That was the case with Sue Mathys. Participating in Urban Stages’ second year of their two-week Holiday Cabaret Nights, the Swiss-born Mathys is a package of well-polished expertise and natural finesse. She offered a selection of international songs of theatre and the concert hall, combining a delicious brew of Piaf, Weill, Sondheim, and Andrew Lloyd Webber and presenting it with grace, wit, a resonant voice, and energy. Add to this her keen acting skill that lets her slip into the character of every song she delivers.
The program was put together with intelligence and an appreciation for flow: each song had its place and its importance. Mathys, who now lives in New York, began with a low-keyed “Who Knows?” by Harold Rome (I Can Get It for You Wholesale), remembering how she questioned what the future held for a young woman just arriving in New York. The answer was definite, leading into a hard-driving “Some People” (Jule Styne/Stephen Sondheim for Gypsy) that revealed a resilient persistence. Did she have any regrets about relocating from one continent to another? Her answer, “Non, je ne regrette rien” (Charles Dumont/Michel Vaucaire), smoothly introduced a French sequence of three other Piaf standards. Delving into the dramatic sweep of “l’Accordéoniste” (Michel Emer), Mathys’s face flashed with snatches of desire, loss and sorrow, and “Hymne à l’amour” (Marguerite Monnot/Edith Piaf) reflected Piaf’s grief after the sudden death of Marcel Cerdan. Her hands, moving with theatrical grace, were reminiscent of Piaf’s own body language.
Mathys broke from the Gallic drama for a lighter spirit with David Yazbek’s “What Was a Woman to Do” from Dirty Rotten Scoundrels and Stephen Sondheim’s saucy “Can That Boy Foxtrot!” (Follies). With an expressive face and lithe movements, Mathys was spirited and dynamic, not rushing around the stage, but interpreting with compelling body and facial interpretation. Particularly powerful was her rendition of “Seeräuber-Jenny” (from Kurt Weill/Bertolt Brecht’s Die Dreigroschenoper), making clear the dramatic revenge in the song even for listeners unfamiliar with German.
Mathys’s musical director and pianist, John Bell, arranged an intriguing link of the Weill/Brecht works to the contemporary darkness of John Kander and Fred Ebb. An unfamiliar selection was “Love and Love Alone” from The Visit, a rarely performed Kander and Ebb musical, with a vamp that linked back to Weill; her delivery was outstanding.
She sank into the poignant ballads, including Irving Berlin’s lovely “I Got Lost in His Arms” (Annie Get Your Gun) and Sondheim’s “Not While I’m Around” from Sweeney Todd. Her eleven o’clock pairing of “As If We Never Said Goodbye” and “With One Look,” from Andrew Lloyd Webber, Don Black and Christopher Hampton’s Sunset Boulevard, electrified all the poignant delusions of Norma Desmond.
Mathys has a potent middle-range voice, resonant with shadows, a full voice that could easily have embraced the small Urban Stages space without the microphone. An unamplified encore would have been a welcome fini. Despite the somber theatrics of her songbook, she displayed warmth and enjoyment in performing. There was very little patter, but this was announced as a concert, not a cabaret show.
Sue Mathys’s career has included leading roles in shows like Sunset Boulevard, Gypsy, Cabaret, Sweeney Todd, and Master Class. She received an Agnes Moorehead Award (“one of the 10 best New York Live Performances of the year 2009”) and appeared in various programs over the past year, including the gala first night of the 21st New York Cabaret Convention 2010.
All proceeds of this series went to Urban Stages’ outreach program, which brings the arts to children and teens in underserved communities in schools and libraries and also through their annual on-site summer camp, where kids write and present their own plays and are immersed in theatre.