30…And Counting: Karen Mason

Karen Mason has been collaborating with MD/pianist Christopher Denny for 30 years, her director (and writer of special material), Barry Kleinbort, almost that long. They were lucky to find one another. We were lucky they found one another.

An expressive “Zing! Went the Strings of My Heart” (James F. Hanley) melds into ba dump dump da, da, da da, “Just in Time” (Jule Styne/Betty Comden and Adolph Green), both wide open and infectiously up. The vocalist does a little dance as she revolves, shimmering white pants flapping against those long limbs.

“Lorna’s Here”/“I Want to Be With You” (Charles Strouse/Lee Adams) is the first of a series of tandem selections as collusive as what we’re seeing on stage. With each the second song seems to continue a story. Denny musically braids connections making them seamless. Mason steps into character as she might a zipless dress. She’s suddenly serious, personifying one woman’s drama on human scale, sense of proportion a trademark.

A second pairing “Watch What Happens”/“I Will Wait for You” (Michel Legrand/ Norman Gimbel arrives on chiaroscuro melody. Vocal lightly skims. Entreaty becomes wrenching. Left hand rises to her neck, then lowers, fingers splaying. How Mason can sing so softly without fraying is a marvel. The final “…sharing your love” arcs.

Brian Lasser’s “I Made a New Friend”, inspired by Mason’s crush on a bartender, is sweet, halting, shy. The evocative lyric emerges pristine. Heart on her sleeve, arm at her side, Mason takes us with her. (Lasser was her friend and former MD.) “A House is Not a Home” (Burt Bacharach/Hal David) and “Time” (Joseph Thalken/Barry Kleinbort) are engaging ballads; the first gripping hope against hope, the second a veritable scene-in-one with insightful lyric.

When Frank Wildhorn/Jack Murphy’s musical Wonderland met a premature demise, Mason put aside her Red Queen costumes with frustration and regret. Stepping up, Kleinbort gifted her with “Show Queen,” a parody to the tune of Lerner and Loewe’s “Show Me.” “I have played roles/Varied and versed/This was my first/Show Queen…” which gets back at critics with a satirical blade. Kleinbort is a smart, sophisticated and funny writer, a trifecta.

The most inspired coupling, “Help!” (Paul McCartney/John Lennon) and “Being Alive” (Stephen Sondheim) enters with delicate, elliptical piano. “Help,” Mason implores without the exclamation point. “I need somebody/Not just anybody/Someone….to hold me too close…” With the Sondheim confession, her vocal opens like a fan rising from somewhere deep. “Make me alive!” she sings with a foot stomp, left arm extending. As need passes through her, the artist doubles over, tilts back, then grabs- fist snapping shut. Wow.

We end with a classically vaudevillian “Everything Old is New Again” (Peter Allen/Carole Bayer Sager), then “Our Love is Here to Stay” (George Gershwin/ Ira Gershwin), both aptly chosen.

Karen Mason is gracious, grateful, graceful, and wry. She shares. May anniversaries continue.

Photos by Maryann Lopinto

30…And Counting: Karen Mason
Director Barry Kleinbort
MD/Piano- Christopher Denny

Birdland
315 West 44th Street

About Alix Cohen (1350 Articles)
Alix Cohen is the recipient of ten New York Press Club Awards for work published on this venue. Her writing history began with poetry, segued into lyrics and took a commercial detour while holding executive positions in product development, merchandising, and design. A cultural sponge, she now turns her diverse personal and professional background to authoring pieces about culture/the arts with particular interest in artists/performers and entrepreneurs. Theater, music, art/design are lifelong areas of study and passion. She is a voting member of Drama Desk and Drama League. Alix’s professional experience in women’s fashion fuels writing in that area. Besides Woman Around Town, the journalist writes for Cabaret Scenes, Broadway World, TheaterLife, and Theater Pizzazz. Additional pieces have been published by The New York Post, The National Observer’s Playground Magazine, Pasadena Magazine, Times Square Chronicles, and ifashionnetwork. She lives in Manhattan. Of course.