Women Wednesdays: Queen Of The Cabarets, Karen Mason Talks About Her Career & How Live Performance Feels Like Home

“Un-Block The Music” talks a lot about Broadway shows. I also talk about concerts and albums, but I don ‘t spend a lot of time on Cabarets. After speaking to Karen Mason, I am more excited about them then ever. While Karen has done her share of Broadway shows, including Mamma Mia, Sunset Boulevard and Hairspray, she has done so many cabarets through the years, many with her late partner Brian Lasser.

“I opened quite a few clubs. In fact, my first job in New York was at The Ballroom in Soho.” In 1983, Karen played the very first night of Don’t Tell Mama NYC Cabaret Club opening. In 2015, she returned to the club for a five-week stint of sold out shows. Last week that show, directed by Barry Kleinbort; with music direction by Christopher Denny was streamed for three nights. https://unblockthemusic.blog/2020/10/14/women-wednesdays-let-karen-mason-entertain-you-through-the-pandemic/,

“I love cabaret. That’s what Brian and I worked hard at for so long. We were doing five nights a week, three shows a night. That’s how you learn what works and what doesn’t work. And, it is how you learn who you are. Anybody can do one great show, but it’s the second show and the third night and the fourth night. That’s when you see the technique and the skill,” Karen said.  

Also, perhaps we have always known, and maybe the pandemic has strengthened the belief, that there “is a need to share and experience with other people. Music can connect to a human spirit like nothing else can.”; no better place than the intimate setting of a cabaret.

“I always knew that music was going to part of my life. I did my first show in high school and thought it felt like home,” Karen said. She went to an all-girls Catholic High School and musicals were done in conjunction with the all-boys Catholic High School. “I felt comfortable doing musicals at the boys school. The stage is where I needed to be. After that, I started doing community theater. In 1976, I met Brian. He was the music director for a restaurant in Chicago called Lawrence of Oregano, who had singing waiters and waitresses.” He hired her, and the two became inseparable. “Brian and I had a musical attraction and worked together for 16 years. Both of us had theater in our blood.”

She continued, “We decided to move to New York in 1979. We wrote shows. I got cast in shows. We did cabaret and recorded, and did pretty much what all performers do. We just were trying to get things to land. I was lucky that I had a variety of opportunities.”  Karen and Brian’s partnership resulted in music and perhaps most notably her one woman show One Tough Cookie which actually opened a few years after Brian’s death. (Karen also brought in book writer Rita Nachtmann made the piece somewhat less autobiographical). What always shines through is the magic “of how music connects to the human spirit,” she said.

The whole concept of a musical might be silly to some. “I sing around the house, so it’s not uncommon for me to stop and have a song going through my head when something happens, But, while it is unnatural situation, it is so joyful.” What’s great about cabaret and musicals, Karen said, is that “when you are in a room hearing someone sing about something they are going through, it allows you to feel something you might not have been totally conscious of how you felt about it. Hearing a song that connects to you, is like having a friend talk to you. That’s especially true when there is such a disconnect from friends and family as there is now. “

396121 04: Performers Karen Mason, Louise Pitre, and Judy Kaye sing during the premiere of ”Mama Mia” October 18, 2001 in New York. ”Mamma Mia” is a new musical based on the songs of ABBA. (Photo by Lawrence Lucier/Getty Images)

When asked about how things have changed for women in theater as she has gone through the years, Karen said she believes “there will be impasses for forever. Men have held on to that power for so long, but what is exciting is that more recognition is finally being given to women writers and actors.”

We chatted a bit about how difficult reviews can be for artists. They can make or break a show. Karen, said while people say you can’t take it personally, of course you do! However, in retrospect, every project has value. “Even projects you might not be sure of, do it. You can meet people that take you to the next project. And, you always learn something, even from the projects that may turn out to be real stinkers,” she laughed.

Karen is married to Paul Rolnick, a songwriter and record producer. “He understands how music connects. He has produced all seven of my CDs, “ she said. She gushes a bit when she talks about how proud she is of his song “It’s About Time” (co-written with Shelly Markham) which has the theme of marriage equality. While “Un-Block The Music” tries hard not to be political, I encourage you to listen to these lyrics as the United States readies itself for the next Supreme Court Justice. These are words for everyone to live by, “”It’s about love, it’s about life, it’s about time” .

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