BWW Review: LUBA MASON 5'10" Is A Giant Achievement at 54 Below
"The last time I was on Broadway was 15 years ago."
Wait. What? No, really...WHAT?!
If Luba Mason hasn't been on Broadway in fifteen years, then something is wrong. It's not right. And it's not fair to the theater-going public, who deserves to see Luba Mason in action. Yes, Luba's been working off-Broadway and she's recorded three cds (with a fourth on the way in 2020!), but Luba Mason should be on Broadway at least every other season. First of all, the way she looks is reason enough to turn on a spotlight. Speaking personally, my guest and I were in the bar at Feinstein's/54 Below between the 7 pm Linda Eder show and the 9:30 Luba Mason show, so we got to see Ms. Mason arrive for her set, in her blue jeans, UGGS, and red and black flannel, and she looked like she should be on the cover of a magazine, easily one of the prettiest women you will ever see. So when she took the stage in her negligee, the audience gasped, naturally. No, really, her gown could have been a negligee worn by Barbara Stanwyck or Lana Turner in a black and white movie from the 1940's - this was couture on the 54 Below stage and Luba Mason wore it as comfortably as she did her UGGS. That's style.
It's not just a parade of pretty, though, with Luba Mason because the moment the show Luba Mason 5'10" begins, Ms. Mason is entrenched in the act of storytelling, and she is a natural-born raconteur. With ease and grace (and a lot of relatable humor) the actress shares the stories of her life, from the uproarious ping pong match that has been the changing of her name, to the sometimes gasp-inducing tales of her career, one with enough peaks and valleys that it reads like a heart monitor screen -- but it hasn't flatlined, thanks to her tenacity and perseverance! Those peaks and valleys are what makes for a good storyline in this consummate actor's nightclub act, and Mason knows exactly where those highs and lows lie in her script (as well as her life, currently at one of the high points), using meticulously chosen pieces of music to illustrate those ever-changing latitudes. Who else but a craftswoman and poet would decide to illustrate the story of the lowest ebb in their life with a quiet Karen Carpenter melody, rather than a Broadway power ballad? It was a savvy choice, one that informed the ongoing story Luba tells in ways astute and artistic, an obvious gift that Ms. Mason possesses because each musical number is orchestrated to pair with perfection to each tale being told, to hilarious and heartbreaking effect. It is to Mason's benefit that her vocal instrument is so expressively versatile, with an ability to adapt to varying styles of music, not an ability for which every singer has a knack, but one to which all should aspire. Ms. Mason's transition from a Kander & Ebb song, pure Broadway belt, to a Bob Dylan rock tune is riveting, and it's the kind of experience an audience can expect throughout the entire evening's entertainment, for there appears to be no music to which Mason cannot adapt her freakishly rangey voice, to the delectation of her rapt audience.
The Mason voice as mighty as ever, Luba is impressive while singing from shows she has acted in like Forty Second Street, How to Succeed in Business, and Jekyll & Hyde, making it even more notable when she dials the volume back to a two for "Beautiful" from Pretty Filthy, which brings the story telling intensity up to a twelve. Ms. Mason, clearly a woman of many parts and many experiences, has learned in life that power isn't always the right choice, and when she dials it back to a two, her smarts are showing as brightly as her talent. Both knack and know-how show, too, in her decision to share embarrassing tales of early auditions in New York, as those anecdotes serve as a pathway from the audience seats to her heart, for who could resist the allure of a white woman who once auditioned at a cattle call for the original production of Dreamgirls? Yeah, the story and the audition song are worth the ticket and the minimum... even worth the Uber to take you home at the end of the show.
Luba Mason 5'10" is full of musical theater music, and with Luba Mason at the helm, with musical theater stories; but Luba Mason 5'10" is not a musical theater piece. This is the story of one woman's drive and her will to survive. There are moments in the show when Luba stands downstage center, in bright light, and shares dark times. There are experiences Luba Mason has had in her life that no person should have, and after they have had them, most people don't discuss them, unless in the presence of a licensed psychological therapist. The intrepid and courageous Mason holds nothing back in her quest for honesty with her audience - if the story is served by putting on display her most vulnerable state of being and the utmost deplorable crimes committed against her, she is nothing less than a heroine. Luba Mason has chosen this one-woman musical cabaret to tell her story, to share her truth, and much of the time, truth can be arduous - reliving it is understood to be painful for Luba, for her facial expression becomes like a book opened to the most horrifying chapter, and the audience hearing that story reacts with abject silence, then will audible utterances of empathy and sorrow, followed by jubilant applause and cheers when happiness is the spoil and Luba Mason, the victor.
It can be difficult to be vulnerable in a spotlight with many eyes upon you, but it is less so when one feels the warm and comforting protection of Billy Stritch, the big brother and guardian of every singing actor fortuitous enough to share a collaboration with him. Mr. Stritch guides many an artist into the exposed avenues born of a desire to share one's story through the magic of music, and his watchful eye acts as a security blanket giving them permission to go out on a creative limb. Ms. Mason's show is chock-a-block with creativity, from the easel and sketch pad center stage, to the drum kit stage left, and while Mr. Strich is the safety net, Ms. Mason is the artist in the air, and she flies high in this show - much higher than her usual 5'10" - but she is not flying alone -- the audience is with her the whole way, the entire time, cheering her on and celebrating when she wins.
This is Luba Mason's moment - may it last the rest of her life.
She's earned it.
Luba Mason 5'10" was a one-night-only event but if Ms. Mason plans further dates, Broadwayworld will bring you the news.
Photos by Stephen Mosher