BWW Review: THE SANTA STORY At Downtown Cabaret Theatre

BWW Review: Sue Matsuki Looks Good in the THIS BROAD'S WAY Light at PangeaOne of the things (possibly THE thing) that makes Sue Matsuki so successful is her pure and unadulterated love of performing, and of the audience. Every person who steps onto a stage has a different motive for being there - and it's personal to each individual - but when you are engaged in the act of watching Sue Matsuki perform, there can be no doubt, whatsoever, that she is completely and totally, one hundred percent in love with what she is doing, and with the people who have shown up to watch her do it.

This season Ms. Matsuki joined forces with her musical partner in crime, Gregory Toroian, to present a club act titled THIS BROAD'S WAY. Isn't that clever? That's what this writer thought, too, when the first announcements of the show were made: great title, great show art, great premise - Sue Matsuki was doing a deep dive into the Broadway music she loved and always wanted to sing but never got to because musical theater wasn't in the cards for her. Deal me in, I was ready to go. And yet, with three performances of This Broad's Way scheduled for Pangea, the downtown club where Sue and Gregory's popular JAZZ BRUNCH takes place once a month, this writer was unable to fit the show into the schedule. And I really wanted to. Underline it: really wanted to.

BWW Review: Sue Matsuki Looks Good in the THIS BROAD'S WAY Light at Pangea
Helane Blumfield Photo

Like some late-in-the-season holiday gift, two days ago I got an email from Sue - it was blind copied, so it was clearly something that she wanted to share with friends, colleagues, and associates of like minds: it was a professionally made show video of THIS BROAD'S WAY. And I was happy. So this morning I brewed myself a pot of Harney & Sons English Breakfast tea and, before the sunrise, settled in to watch a movie. And even though Broadway World Cabaret correspondent Ricky Pope had already reviewed the show (HERE) and even though Broadway World Cabaret has veered away from writing about virtual entertainment with the reopening of the clubs, I'm the boss at BWW Cabaret, and I want to write about Sue and her musical cabaret with the clever title, so that's what I am here to do, today.

After two stellar opening numbers, Sue launches into her patter, the story of a girl from Connecticut with a dream of playing Broadway, who wound up being a jazz singer. Sue has had some nice success as a jazz singer, aided mightily by Mr. Toroian, with whom she has a work relationship the like of Milton and Marilyn, Hepburn and Givenchy, or Liza and Kander & Ebb. The duo has had twenty-seven years of accomplishment because their shorthand is immaculately conceived: they are a masterful pairing - it is no wonder the Bistro Awards honored them in 2020. With Gregory's jazz treatments, Sue convincingly presents arrangements of famous songs being given light out of their original context. Some of the treatments lean heavily on the jazz genre (a surprisingly enjoyable "Stepsister's Lament") while others give Sue a chance to do some honest-to-goodness acting, applied to real-life Matsuki stories (a groovy mashup of "Whatever Lola Wants" and "When I Look in Your Eyes"). Team Matsuki keeps the "jazz set" vibe front and center, allowing Sue some leeway with her patter, which is a major boon to the performance because she is refreshingly and amazingly funny with all of her audience chit-chat. Not only can Ms. Matsuki tell stories in song, she is (in a word) hysterical, with asides to the band, unplanned interactions with the audience, and scripted portions like the reading of a letter from a woman Matsuki mistook, for a moment, as her Mother. The letter-reading segment of the show gives Sue some of her best storytelling moments, using songs from The King and I, How To Succeed..., I'm Getting My Act Together..., and Kiss Me Kate, Sue and the band create a bona fide play within the play, a play that is an extremely well-crafted piece of theater, and one that provides Sue with some of her best vocals this writer has heard, lo, these many years. Sue and Gregory went on an exploration of her lower register that made this writer salivate and swoon, and though Sue has tended, over the years, to prefer her keys in the air, after hearing this four-song mini-play, there is no escaping dreams of future arrangements with these sultry low notes. It was a revelation of purest joy.

Aside from those low notes and some truly entertaining acting moments that range from sincere ("With Every Breath I Take," an evening highlight) to tongue-in-cheeky (an interestingly rhythmed "Popular"), something that resonated with this at-home viewer was how much fun Matsuki is having with this performance. Perhaps it is the subject matter, maybe it was the relief of being back on stage after the shutdown, it could be a place or a space to which Sue has gotten in her life, or it might be the influence of Sue's director, the prolific Lina Koutrakos, but Sue has rarely appeared so comfortable, so at ease, so playful during a performance, which is saying a lot because on the stage is where Sue comes to life. There is just something special happening here, and it occurs to me that three performances of This Broad's Way aren't enough. This is a nightclub act that reminds one why Sue Matsuki has had three decades in the business, but it also shows that she is still digging around in that old trunk of the arts, looking to grow, exploring new things with which to play, discovering (or maybe REdiscovering) nuances and colors heretofore uncovered. It's exciting, getting to see Sue go into a different room, musically and theatrically, and it would be a real shame if this show video on YouTube were the only remaining representation of such a good show (the video, by the way, is unlisted and unavailable to the public but filmmaker Steve Bustamante did a bang-on job shooting and editing it). Here's hoping that 2022 will see a return to the stage of this musical outing that doesn't just satisfy Sue Matsuki's Broadway dreams, it satisfies ours.

The exceptional THIS BROAD'S WAY band was Gregory Toroian (Musical Director/Arranger/Piano), Skip Ward (Bass), and David Silliman (Drums)

Sue Matsuki THIS BROAD'S WAY was presented at Pangea. Find great shows to see on the Pangea website HERE.

THIS is the Sue Matsuki website.

Sue Matsuki gets a five out of five microphones rating for performing her entire show without the use of a lyric sheet, tablet, or music stand.

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