Barbara and Scott
The Two of Clubs

The Siegels report on three shows that dare to be different: belter Karen Mason turns sweet, cabaret battler Milla Ilieva turns on the charm, and the cast of Broadway - Our Way!, well, they're different by definition!

Mason Jar?

Karen Mason has always been known for her belting, so it was with both curiosity and anticipation that we hurried to see her new show celebrating the release of her latest CD, provocatively (for her) titled The Sweetest of Nights. We would argue that Mason's belting is pretty damned sweet, but then this smart entertainer wisely peppered some of her best power ballads in her act to satisfy her faithful fans while also venturing into a more delicate sound. Backed by her talented musical director/pianist Chris Denny and top-of-the-line bass player, Jered Egan, she put over an exquisite pairing of "Now I Have Everything" (Bock/Harnick) and "Married" (Kander/Ebb), and stopped the show with the centerpiece of her act, a stunning story song performance of "What's Wrong With This Picture?" (Lasser/Bormet). It was a powerful reminder that Mason is not only a first class singer, she is also an accomplished actress.

Personable on stage, Mason has a warm way about her that suggests a very undiva-like attitude. An open Midwestern manner informs her patter and she easily makes any audience her own thanks to her unguarded honesty. We have seen Karen Mason perform over a long stretch of years and she is never anything less than exciting. And now you can add sweet. She continues at The Encore with shows on November 5, 6, & 7 at 9:00 PM.

Milla Shows 'Em

In her saucy new show, So Many Nights, So Many Men, cabaret artist Milla Ilieva enriches and expands the parameters of her considerable skills as a cabaret artist. Commanding the stage with both presence and poise, she builds upon her southern roots to establish a playful persona that is part southern belle, part New York sophisticate, and all woman. In her opening number she promises, "What A Night This Is Going To Be," and she is true to her word.

A tongue-in-cheek performance by a woman with an appetite for the sensual and the sexual, her colorful tour of the many and varied dimensions of love ranges from her sly take on the dicey "When Does the Ravishing Begin?" to her consummate and consummated rendition of "Do it Again." A soprano whose most beguiling notes seem to come from the middle to the lower part of her register, and an actress with expressive, big flirty eyes, Ilieva has the tools to make a powerful impression and the skill to put those tools to work. She covers "Sara Lee" with comic icing, and turns "Everybody's Girl" into the show-stopping centerpiece of her show.

This is a particularly well-crafted act with careful attention paid to song selection. Her show is anchored by strong, emotionally charged standards like "Time Heals Everything" and given additional verve by virtue of its cleverly chosen obscure gems such as "Tess's Torch Song." She sets up each number with patter that is delivered with a refreshing economy, and then she puts them over with an impressive veneer of professionalism. She is aided and abetted in her pursuit of excellence by her director, Broadway veteran Margery Beddow, and her much-admired musical director Paul Trueblood who is among the elite few who know how to support a singer without overplaying.

Despite the sexual innuendos and bad girl bantering, at the heart of Ilieva's show is a warm-hearted optimism. If she tips her hand by singing a sincere version of "A Cockeyed Optimist," she deepens the sentiment with her buoyant rendition of "Taking a Chance on Love."

Ilieva has several performances remaining in her run at The Encore: 11/11 at 9:30 PM and 11/5 and 11/12 at 5 PM.

Their Way - or The Steinway

Revues used to be a staple in cabaret but now they are relatively few and far between - and frankly there hasn't been anything in a long time as original or as artistically audacious as Broadway - Our Way!. Here is a show that uses approximately thirty-five musical theater songs that have been artfully arranged (and we do mean arranged, because quite a number of these songs are only used in part) to create a story arc that involves the romantic foibles of two men and two women.

Lightly told, but with an almost melancholy undertow, the essential thrust of the "plot" involves the infatuation of a somewhat older gay man (Bill Daugherty) for a young, handsome fellow (Meyer deLeeuw), who is, in turn, the object of a young girl's affections (Christina Morrell). This triangle is overseen by a woman who has long been fond of Daugherty (Connie Pachl) but she can only watch and wait (and sing) as the romantic wheel keeps spinning through a roller coaster of emotions. From direct statements like "Mad About the Boy" (Noel Coward) sung by Daugherty, to Morrell's passionate lament, "Make the Man Love Me" (Schwartz/Fields), the show offers the dual pleasures of great songs and fresh contexts.

A complicated undertaking, this ambitious show may frustrate some who don't like to see their favorite theater songs used for spare parts. Nonetheless, the one-hour show is entirely sung-through, with no dialogue to get in the way of the singing, and most will readily forgive the use of song snippets because the story that unfolds with their use is so charming. Once the plot is well underway, the snippets also start to give way to more songs being performed from start to finish. Hearing rarely performed numbers like "Flings" (Merrill) performed in their fullness with so much show business panache by Pachl and Daugherty is a special treat.

Which brings us to the quality of the cast: newcomers' deLeeuw and Morrell are attractive and talented; they add considerably to the show's appeal. Pachl and Daugherty, however, are the exceptional veterans who give the piece its heart and its character. Pachl is a fierce belter and a delightful comedienne. Daugherty has a gorgeous tenor voice, great acting chops, and a sparkle in his eyes that only actual stars possess. Fluidly directed by Daugherty, with smooth musical direction by pianist Doyle Newmyer, Broadway - Our Way! is a happily welcome new show.

Broadway - Our Way continues at The Hideaway Room at Helen's, 169 Eighth Ave., through December 4. For performance and reservations, call 212-206-0609.

We will provide our usual "Show ... and Tell" report of upcoming acts of note with our next column.

-- Barbara and Scott Siegel

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