BWW Interview: At Home With Sue Matsuki
Sue Matsuki is one of the leading members of the cabaret community. With decades of devotion to the craft, the patrons, and the family of artists, Sue has developed into a kind of matriarch of the neighborhood. In fact, she is often referred to at "The Godmother of Cabaret" - a name that was passed on to her that she takes seriously (the story will be covered in a future article). Always present at the shows, the ceremonies, the events, the workshops, the masterclasses, Sue takes her role to heart and always leads with a benevolence many find comforting and helpful. Recently, Sue and her longtime collaborator Gregory Toroian started the Jazz Brunch at Pangea, an open mic where artists can affordably dine together and get up and sing for one another, and in the upcoming weeks, she and her Cabaret Hotspot colleague David Sabella will be releasing a book all about performing the craft of cabaret.I recently caught Sue at home (because where else?) to throw a few questions out so Broadway World readers and cabaret fans could get to know her a bit better. Name: Sue Matsuki
First Cabaret Show (Title, Year, Club): No Title just Sue Matsuki at DTM 1986
Most Recent Cabaret Show: How's That for Openers? (Opened Sept. 16th, 2019 on the exact anniversary of my 33rd year of singing at Don't Tell Mama.
Website and/or Social Media Handles: www.suematsuki.com
Sue, your name is synonymous with the New York cabaret scene, what has kept you so active all these years?
Thank you! I started singing jazz at The Village Gate two years before I even knew what Cabaret was, but once I took the stage and realized this was a place where people actually listened, (vs. being background music) I was hooked. I studied with the best: Helen Baldassare, Gerry Geddes, Gregory Toroian (for 25 years as you all know by now), Julie Wilson, Lina Koutrakos, and most recently with Marilyn Maye. I have come full-circle and am back in the loving arms of Ms. Lina. What they have taught me, I just want to pass on to newbies of this art form and to, hopefully, keep this very unique, live music performance genre going.
Honestly, up to yesterday (March 26 marking my 16th day inside), I was fine. I found myself so weepy all day yesterday, and we're fine, I didn't know what I was feeling. We're stocked with food, I have a loving and fun husband to be under house arrest with, but the numbers every day are starting to get to me. It's like every bad apocalyptic movie we have ever seen coming to life. This is real. It's hit home too with a few dear friends now on respirators. I have a little bit of "survivor's guilt" in that we are older and retired so we are not facing the horrors of losing jobs, no source of income, and isolation. Being who I am, THIS is what's killing me. I want to mother everyone and I just can't. I have adopted a few people privately with a few dollars but it's just a drop in the bucket. Sigh....that's how I'm doing. I am, however, making the bed every day, cooking, sewing, writing scripts, trying to keep Cabaret Hotspot current with Living Room shows, and trying to remember to run a brush through my hair (usually), so I'm keeping busy. At night we shut down and binge watch Netflix. We just finished Breaking Bad and last night, the final season of Dexter. (I know, I'm such a boy when it comes to TV and movies!)
I saw a photo on your social media the other day that would indicate you are a master chef - what's your favorite thing to cook?I do love to cook and anyone who has been to my home knows you do not ever leave my home hungry. I'll cook anything. My husband likes when I say there's nothing in the house and then I create a lovely meal anyway. He's a pretty good cook too, so we trade off cooking for each other. Tonight is a rotisserie chicken basted in leftover homemade hoisin sauce! Challenges? I need to know how to make macaroons. They are like $3.00 for a little cookie and I love them so I may figure them out one day this week! To be a good cook these days, you just need to Google!
Do you know, off the top of your head, how many solo shows you've done during your career?I do actually because it was part of my research for my 33rd-year show. I've done over 35 solo shows with many repeats of the Ella and Jam n' Toasts shows (my two best sellers) with several different versions of each show. I've done about 23 group or duet shows. Edd Clark and I ran Sue & Edd's Fabulous Christmas show for 10 years and I don't even know how many shows I've produced.
You are also a cabaret journalist, what is your experience as a double-barreled artist like?While I know I'm a good reviewer (constructive), writer and columnist, I hate reviewing. I like to go to a show as a fan and friend. I always walk in ready to love it! Maybe that is what makes me a good reviewer but I personally have always felt there is a conflict of interest in wearing both hats. I do not think this is the case for everyone who sings and reviews but, for me, because I know everyone...it can be. David Sabella at Cabaret Hotspot suggests that our team not review anyone we have "broken bread with" and, for me, that's many. The column, Sue's Views, has been going for way over 15 years. I think I started a version of it when I wrote briefly for "Nitelife Exchange". It was called Ask Sue I think. Then it became Sue's Views when I wrote for Stu Hamstra's "CabaretHotlneOnLine". I did close to 150 columns there on all things Cabaret. I would say though that any show I see and any opinions I make from seeing work, both good and not so good, have informed me as a writer and as a singer. Many times we learn what not to do, right? Learning all these things and being able to share it is why David Sabella and I are SO excited about our book, "So You Want to Sing Cabaret." We cannot wait for you all to read it!
You write, you sing, you cook... are there any other areas of the arts that you practice?I sew, quilt, and cross-stitch. I used to make wedding dresses when I was in college to help pay for my tuition. It was back in the Lady Di days so big puffy sleeves were all the rage but I was more of a Vera Wang minimalist designer. I made gorgeous veils too. I remember a gal brought me her mom's veil and I refashioned it and she was able to have her mom "with her" on her wedding day. I was also a dancer, dance teacher, and choreographer for 20 years. I was a ballerina with the Hartford Ballet School and I was part of a disco dance couple, Sue & Lou. We opened all the clubs with performance dances of disco, cha-cha, and salsa. Hoot! Hoot!On average, how long after you awaken each day do you raise your voice in song? Every day I have vowed to do something to keep my pipes in shape AND I commit to doing something pro-active every day to keep the PR going. It's a commitment. I vocalize most every day, usually after lunch.
What's keeping your spirits up during the quarantine?My husband, my crafts and all my cabaret friends. The clips and the on-line support is amazing. I DO hope that we all don't get used to this way of communicating though, as human contact is vitally important but at least we can reach out to each other at this most unusual and stressful time. I miss you all and hope to see you all "on campus" soon my friends!You are an avid traveler - what's your favorite vacation spot? We have literally been everywhere but my favorite trip remains my honeymoon in the Amazon Jungle. Those who saw my last show got a glimpse into that adventure but I also LOVED Africa. To be that close to the animals was something I'll never forget. My favorite get-away place is Curacao.Who is the cabaret artist you will always go see perform? Are you trying to get me in trouble? LOL! There are SO many but you also know how many shows I go to because you're always there as well! It's hard to name just one but I do have what I call the Karen Mason "bar". Whenever I get pissy and want to scream I say to myself, "What would Karen Mason do?" She, like many of my mentors over all these years, is who I'd like to emulate both on and off stage. She is class personified, she's a riot, she's smart, she's such a pro, she always looks great and that voice. Who wouldn't go to see her if they had the opportunity?
Photo of Sue Matsuki in performance by Stephen Mosher. All others provided by Ms. Matsuki