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Review: JAZZ BRUNCH Is Not Your Mama's Open Mic at Pangea

Sue Matsuki and Gregory Toroian Revive their Sunday Jazz Brunch

photo credit: Stephen Mosher
Photo credit: Stephen Mosher

The pandemic not only denied cabaret performers the opportunity to do what they do best. Perhaps more devastatingly, the pandemic prevented those performers from gathering with their community, a vital link in the creative chain. Thanks to the successful vaccines and the re-opening of clubs and cabaret rooms, we are starting to see a slow return to the normality of gathering to hear the work of fellow artists. I was privileged to be at such a gathering this afternoon when I attended the PANGEA SUNDAY OPEN MIC & JAZZ BRUNCH. Jazz Brunch was created before the pandemic by multi-award-winning cabaret artist, Sue Matsuki and her awesome musical director and composer, Gregory Toroian. And it is back with a bang, playing to a sold-out house.

Jazz brunch consists of three sets. The first set is a true open mic, in which anyone in the house can get up and sing. The second set is a series of guest stars who sing mini-sets. And the third set is a headliner set, with Sue Matsuki, Gregory Toroian and bassist, Skip Ward taking center stage. Matsuki acts as a host for all three sets. It's a great way to structure a show. It varies the entertainment and showcases a lot of talent in one three-hour stretch. And to top it off, you get to enjoy this wonderful entertainment while sampling the excellent and affordable culinary art of the chefs at Pangea.

I'll dispense with any specifics about the open mic except to say the level of talent from the diners who performed was amazing. Everyone sang beautifully. The second set featured a great performance by Deborah Stone who gave us Sondheim's "Anyone Can Whistle," a sultry performance of Amanda McBroom's "It's Hot in Here," and a not so innocent rendition of "With a Smile and a Song" from Snow White. Broadway and cabaret star, David Sabella continued the Sondheim theme with "Take Me to the World." Dorian Woodruff showed off his silky voice with Lori Mechem and Beegie Adair's "Fly Away," "My Side of Town" by Steve Sieck, and a well-received version of "I Made It Through the Rain" which will soon be featured in his solo show about his time as a backup singer for Barry Manilow. The final guest, Maria Corsaro gave us a view of an entire relationship, singing Jimmy McHugh and Dorothy Fields' "Exactly Like You," Antonio Carlos Jobim's "Zingaro," and Sammy Cahn's "You Taught My Heart to Sing." All the guests were stellar entertainers who are opening shows of their own very shortly.

This brings me to the final set which featured Sue Matsuki, Gregory Toroian, and Skip Ward. Matsuki is a masterful jazz singer, with amazing clarity of tone in her voice and wry wit that makes her a joy to watch. She displayed that wit in the faux-country "This Ain't Your Mama's Broken Heart" and "Haiku," in which she enumerated the inferiority of men in the dating pool by writing short poems about them. It was laugh-out-loud funny. She also gave us classic torch songs in "Since I Fell For You" and "Secret Love," one of my all-time favorite tunes. She reinvented Alannah Myles's "Black Velvet" as a jazz ballad. She was particularly good singing Cole Porter's "Too Darn Hot" from Kiss Me, Kate, giving it just the right amount of MGM sparkle. She closed her set with a lovey and touching arrangement of "Over the Rainbow," which she sang just as it began to rain outside. I'm not sure it was a coincidence.

The unsung hero of the afternoon was pianist, musical director, and composer Gregory Toroian. He played brilliant jazz arrangements for all the singers this afternoon, many of them totally improvised on the spot. He never overshadowed the singers, but always laid a clever and solid foundation for them to sail on top of. In the third set, he also sang some of his own songs. "Brooklyn Blues" was a smokey, but loving tribute to the second borough. His song "Last of All Days" was a beautiful and thoughtful question about how we would live our lives in a better, kinder way if we knew it was our last day on earth. A truly wonderful thought.

Sue Matsuki, Gregory Toroian, and Skip Ward are at Pangea on the second Sunday of each month to do JAZZ BRUNCH. Grab your music and get down there to sing a tune and hear some very talented folks. Pangea is a great restaurant, on Second Avenue near Tompkins Square Park. The food is fantastic, the room is warm and inviting, and the staff is attentive and friendly. It's a terrific way to spend a Sunday afternoon. Or any other time, for that matter.

To learn more about Sue Matsuki, visit suematsuki.com. For more on Gregory Toroian, go to gregorytoroian.com. To check out more wonderful shows, or to make dinner reservations at Pangea, look them up at pangeanyc.com.


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