The encore performance of Karen Mason: Classics at Arci's Place is like a nuclear chain reaction. To the known quantity of Mason's atomic talent has been added the unstable element of ABBA fans, due to Mason's upcoming starring role in the eagerly anticipated Broadway musical Mamma Mia!. As a result, the room is awash in the bright glow of a potentially dangerous energy.
Why dangerous? Because those coming to see and hear Mason due to her association with the musical might be disappointed that she isn't performing any ABBA songs in this program. She could have offered at least one of the group's hits to placate those folks, just as she might have thrown a bone to fans of Andrew Lloyd Webber by offering a tune from Sunset Blvd., in which she played Norma Desmond many times as the understudy for the role. Nonetheless, Mason's show is so dynamic and her voice so compelling that fusion actually takes place before your very eyes--the fusion of an audience to a star.
With the help of director Barry Kleinbort and musical director/pianist Christopher Denny, Mason invests standards with more character, style, and emotional freedom than ever before. Perhaps that has come with performing the show for a long period of time. Whatever the reason, this edition captures every aspect of Mason's multi-faceted appeal. She can rattle the fillings in your teeth as she thunders, demandingly, "How Long Has This Been Going On?" (George & Ira Gershwin). Conversely, she can devastate you with a tender reading of "You and I" (Lesley Bricusse). The show's most stunning number is "When the Sun Comes Out"; it includes imaginative lighting effects by Jean Pierre Perreaux, who also provides Mason with a warm and winning mix on the sound board throughout the show.
Mason has always combined a fiery theatricality with a powerful vocal instrument; by every measure, she is a musical theater/cabaret diva. But what sets her apart from her sister divas is her modest, unassuming personality. She doesn't bring attitude to her performance, she brings consummate acting skills. Though she's perfectly capable of blasting out notes, her emphasis is always on revealing the meaning of the words she sings. When she talks to the audience, her humor is at her own expense and her desire to please is almost palpable. Mason is unmistakably a Midwesterner despite her lengthy career in New York, so you will never find her dressed all in black or taking a cynical point of view. She is famously optimistic by nature. (Can you think of any other diva who could sing Kern and de Sylva's "Look For the Silver Lining" and sound like she meant it?)
A cabaret star who has also had considerable success in the theater, Mason now stands at a threshold. Mamma Mia! has all the makings of a phenomenon, and those of us who have watched Mason grow as an artist can only wish her the best as a full-fledged Broadway star come October. Her show at Arci's Place might well be your last chance to see her up close and intimate in a cabaret room for a long time. She continues there through July 21. After that, in early autumn, look for her new CD from Jerome Records.
This is Karen Mason's time. Enjoy it with her.