Barbara and Scott
The Two of Clubs

The Siegels have a few things to say about Tom Andersen's return to cabaret at The Encore and Sue Matsuki's emergence as a cabaret star.

Cabaret is Andersen Land

Tom Andersen
Tom Andersen
Now we know why the last couple of years in cabaret have somehow seemed lacking: Tom Andersen hadn't been around to do a new show! He was working the hinterlands, bringing his beautiful sound and playful personality to folks west of the Hudson. Lucky for them and unlucky for us. But now Andersen is back in New York with a new show and all is right with (at least) the cabaret world.

If you don't know Tom Andersen's work as a singer/songwriter, you should. There are precious few other cabaret artists working today who can so successfully reach your nerve endings as well as your funny bone. Put another way, his sensitive high tenor voice can reach inside your soul - or at least as far as your tear ducts, and he can just as readily make you cry through laughter. We're not talking hyperbole, here. Listen to his song about his parents called "Two Chairs" and tell us you don't get misty. And he's hilarious on a song we hadn't heard before, "Vibrato" (Cheri Coons/Beckie Menzie). About this latter song, it's worth noting that Andersen is such a confident performer that he is willing to sing badly to make us laugh.

The new act at The Encore is called Tom Andersen: Songs Along the Way. There are a handful of tunes in the show that he either wrote or co-wrote, and the rest are songs that he makes his own simply by singing them. Among his own creations, his warm and inviting show opener "Someone Like You" (Andersen/Di Pasqua/Herman) is a particular delight. When he turns to the work of other composers he gives us additional dividends. His version of "There's a Fine, Fine Line" (Lopez/Marx) from Avenue Q is emotionally rooted and enormously compelling.

Backed by a four-piece band led by his exceptional musical director/arranger Ian Herman, Andersen takes full advantage of the instrumentation behind him, getting a sweet guitar (Kenny Wessel) sound underneath several numbers, as well as a soulful bass (Matt Wigton) and (this is no small thing) delicate underplaying from the drums (Jason Wildman). The band supports Andersen beautifully, never competing with him for our attention - and that's a credit to Ian Herman, as well.

With the exception of one disappointing number, a piffle called "Blinded by Beauty" (Andersen/Herman), the show leaps from one memorable moment to the next. "Hey, Cinderella" (Bogguss/Berg) has a sharp, piercing hook that will grab you. The outrageous humor of "I Took My Heart and Gave it to My Love" (Wayman Wong) will catch you by surprise. There is no surprise, however, in experiencing, once again, Andersen's genial charm, nonchalant humor, and easy showmanship.

Tom Andersen continues at The Encore every Sunday afternoon at 4 PM. It's an unusual show time for an unusually strong show.

Sue Matsuki at Helen's

It's been a while since we last saw Sue Matsuki perform - not since she was just making her breakthrough to a new level of popularity as well as establishing her foundation of solid professional showmanship. If anything, her popularity has increased during the intervening years - and for good reason: Matsuki is a more polished and assured performer now and her ability to interpret a lyric is more readily apparent.

Right now, she is celebrating her ten year collaboration with musical director Gregory Toroian with a series of shows at Helen's Hideaway Room. A comfortable camaraderie is very much on display in their playful banter. It's also quite evident in their musical partnership; he supports her voice with fluid skill on the keyboard. Together, they have been putting on a different show every week for six weeks that has drawn upon their work together. It all culminates in a seventh show on November 18th at 9:30 PM (sold out) in which they will premiere an entirely brand new show.

The show we just saw drew upon the women who have influenced Matsuki. There were songs associated with the likes of everyone from Doris Day to Ella Fitzgerald. If those influences continue to hold sway in her new show, she should be a force to reckon with. Consider what she did with a song Reba McIntire sings called "The Greatest Man;" in Matsuki's hands it becomes a moving tribute to her step-father. In the same way, the Janis Ian song "Love is Blind" held a personal poignancy for Matsuki that she delivered with a newfound intimacy and delicacy.

Sue Matsuki's voice is pleasant enough but it's her personality and intelligence on stage that really sell her songs. She's got what most performers would die for: a likeable presence. Her growing skills as a performer only enhance the pleasure she provides.

-- Barbara and Scott Siegel

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