The Talent of Karen Mason Comes to Birdland and CD
Mamma Mia, here she goes again. I love Abba and well, it seemed appropriate to start off this interview as such since she was one of the original stars of Mamma Mia! on Broadway. Currently starring as Velma Von Tussel in Hairspray on Broadway, the multi-talented Karen Mason can be appreciated right in your living room with her latest CD release Right Here, Right Now.
Described as "one of the best cabaret singers around today", Mason has starred on Broadway, Off-Broadway, television as well as enjoying an extremely healthy recording career. She is a nine time MAC Award winner, has won the MAC Award for Major Female Vocalist of the Year for six consecutive years in addition to winning the 2006 Nightlife Award for Major Female Vocalist and three Bistro Awards.
Mason originated the role of Tanya on Broadway in Abba's Mamma Mia!, for which she received a 2002 Drama Desk nomination as Best Actress. Her other leading roles include her critically acclaimed performance as Norma Desmond in Sunset Boulevard on Broadway and in Los Angeles, Mazeppa in Jerome Robbins' Broadway, Rosalie in CARNIVAL for which she received another Drama Desk nomination.
She won the Outer Critics Circle Award for her performance in And The World Goes 'Round, and starred Off-Broadway in her own show Karen Mason Sings Broadway, Beatles And Brian. Her television appearances include the hit dramas Ed and Law & Order: SVU.
TJ: OK, before I begin, I have to tell you you have a new fan! I love the CD and now have to go out and add you to my mega CD collection. How did you get started in the recording side of your career?
MASON: Tim, Thank you so much for the sweet words! I am so damn proud of this CD.....I love all my CDs for different reasons, and this one is my new favorite "child"! We had such a great time putting it all together......and I just love the selections on the CD. And of course, all my friends who helped make it so special. I am lucky, I work with great people!!
I started recording because someone who had seen me perform asked if I wanted to make a CD! It was that simple...and I said YES!!! It was a very simple and "artistic" (which means no money!) process...and again, I had a lot of great musicians around me to share the time with. Brian Lasser was my musical director at the time...and this was our first CD together. We were so excited to be doing this ...and of course, it turned out it was the only CD he and I were able to make together before he died. So my first CD means a great deal to me. Which is why I now own it!
TJ: Now, your new CD, Right Here, Right Now how did you go about choosing the music?
MASON: Well, I have to admit that I am not great at selecting music for CDs! I have a few personal favorites, and then I let my producer take it from there! Paul Rolnick, my producer, and Chris Denny, my MD, confer about what songs we individually want on the CD....and this time, Paul made the final list! And it was perfect! Paul's instincts on this CD were right on the money! He took some crazy chances with song selection....and they were perfect!
TJ: It seems, after listening to the CD, that a lot of this music is very personal to you.
MASON: Why sing music that you get to choose that isn't personal to you? That is the great thing about what I do. I get to work with people I love who challenge and inspire me. And I get to sing songs that do that same thing!
TJ: Do you have a favorite song on the new CD?
MASON: It is very hard to pick ONE song. I love each of them for different reasons: I love my husband's songs (LIKE THE HEAVENS HOLDS THE STARS & RIGHT HERE, RIGHT NOW) because they are beautiful and contemporary and written with love. I love ALL THAT JAZZ because it is just sassy! Chris Denny and Barry Kleinbort did such an amazing arrangement of an amazing song...and it makes me so very happy every time I sing it
TJ: I see that you have dedicated the CD to your dad. Was he a big influence in your life?
MASON: Yes, I have been blessed with 2 great parents. Both very impressive in their own ways. My Dad was a charming and smart man...who, to the very end of his life, had a grace to him that was always inspiring. My Dad's could walk in a room and be friends with everyone in a short time. And a great raconteur! Loved to tell stories. And laugh! He loved to laugh!
TJ: Are diamonds really a girl's best friend?
TJ: I was very intrigued by the Help/Being Alive track. How did you come up with that combination?
MASON: This has gotten the most reaction. People either love it or hate it! I love it.....it was just one of those flukes of creativity! Chris Denny wanted to do an arrangement of BEING ALIVE....and in the show we were doing, somehow it needed something to segue from the previous number to Being Alive. And I had talked with my friend Lina Koutrakos, who told me that she had just seen Tina Turner at MSG...and for her encore, she sang HELP with just piano. It must have been amazing! And somehow the idea came to me that maybe the two songs could inform each other.....and I told Chris, who just sat down at the piano, started playing the vamp to Being Alive...and well, it just happened! I love when that happens. Such a miracle!
TJ: When you are performing cabaret, do you have a preference between a large venue versus a smaller more intimate venue?
MASON: I love singing for people who are loving what I am doing. Wooo, there is a rambling sentence! But it is true, I get to be on stage with my friends, making music, doing what I love......and each performing experience is totally unique. Big halls allow me to be a little "larger" and the challenge is make the show feel intimate. Small spaces allow me the intimacy, but make it more of a challenge for the more theatrical pieces.
TJ: You're going to be at Birdland on August 4th. What can audiences expect to hear that night?
MASON: I am going to be with Chris Denny at the piano, Bob Renino on bass, and Rex Benincasa on drums. These are friends who have played on my CDs....and are not only brilliant musicians, but great collaborators. We are gonna do songs from the new CD RIGHT HERE/RIGHT NOW....and some from past CDs! I am looking forward to doing the song from SUNSET BOULEVARD. It is such a dramatic piece...and great in a larger space. And with my friend Matt Berman being my technical director for the evening, I know everything will be right.
TJ: Did I hear that your song Hold Me from your Better Days CD won the Emmy for Guiding Light? That must have been an exciting time for you?
MASON: That was very exciting! I had recorded the CD, BETTER DAYS, which was the music of my late friend and musical director/mentor Brian Lasser. After he died, my husband arranged for the Musical Supervisor at Guiding Light to get a copy. The show picked the song HOLD ME to be a long theme....and well, to hear Brian's name called as the winner......I was totally speechless for the first time in my life, And Paul made an absolutely beautiful thank you speech.
TJ: Now Mamma Mia just came out in the theatres have you seen it and what did you think of it?
MASON: Haven't seen it yet. And I am sure it is as fun and wonderful as the stage show.
TJ: How's Hairspray going? Have you just been having a lot of fun? It's such a great show.
MASON: It is a great show. I love the music and the cast is absolutely wonderful. Great actors, great spirits, and always fun on stage! It is a show that makes you happy!
TJ: How long have you been playing Velma?
MASON: I have been donning the crown of Baltimore Crabs for 3 months!
TJ: Do you have a favorite theatre memory of performing with someone?
MASON: I am lucky, that I have many memories. But certainly my first night on as Norma Desmond was pretty spectacular! I felt like I was shot out of a cannon! I got 2 days notice that Glenn Close was going to take a performance off in Los Angeles (we had a grueling 5 day weekend schedule in LA!! TOO MUCH!) and this was going to be my first show. And honestly, all I remember is my first entrance....and my bow! The rest is a total blur! But I know I had a great time. And thankfully, the cast was generous and so sweet to me....especially George Hearn and Alan Campbell. They made me feel so.......well, like a star!
TJ: What has been, in your opinion, the pinnacle of your career so far?
MASON: Tough question. I have lots more I want to do!
TJ: What a career you have had so far! Is there anything that you haven't done that you would like to do?
MASON: Win a Tony and a Grammy
TJ: The World Goes Round is right up there on my list as one of my all time favorites. Are you a big Kander and Ebb fan?
MASON: I love their songs. Perfect for my voice...and for my personality....and my sense of humor. And getting to work with John and Fred was a real gift. Of course....those skates!!!!
TJ: Did I read somewhere that you actually performed on stage with Kander and Ebb?
MASON: Not singing with them. I did get to sing at Carnegie Hall when they were made Landmarks! I sang ALL THAT JAZZ with the NY Pops ...what a total thrill.
TJ: What's up next for you?
MASON: I have some shows coming up. I will be at The Bradstan Country Inn (my favorite place in Sullivan County!) on August 31...then a private event in Dallas. Auditioning, singing, working...making another CD.
TJ: OK, some questions to find out about Karen Mason offstage. What is your favorite thing to do when you are not performing?
MASON: Sleeping, shopping & eating!!! And exploring! I am one nosy broad!
TJ: What is your favorite New York hangout spot?
MASON: The entire island! Because I love to people-watch!!! What a crazy place to live! It was a shock to me when I moved here...but I gotta tell you, I love that this city moves so fast! And with every culture, every language.....I am never bored!!
If you weren't in the performing arts industry, what would your occupation be?
MASON: I wanted to be a truck driver. I love driving long distances!!!
OK, Karen. I will drive shotgun with you anytime! You folks have so many ways to experience this great lady now. You can see her in Hairspray on Broadway, get her new CD which is available at iTunes or amazon.com for downloading or via www.karenmason.com . The best thing is that you can catch Karen Mason's live performance on Monday, August 4, 2008 at 7:00p.m at Birdland, 315 West 44th Street (between 8th & 9th Aves), New York City. Tickets are $35.00 + $10.00 Food/Drink Minimum (Per Person) Tickets can be purchased Online: www.BIRDLANDJAZZ.com; or by Telephone: 212.581.3080. As always folks, theatre is my life. Ciao for now!!