“Sue Matsuki and Edd Clark’s FABULOUS Christmas Show was hosted by Don’t Tell Mama, one of Manhattan’s premiere cabaret venues, for only two evenings this year, Sunday, December 11 and Wednesday, December 14, and the latter is the show being reviewed. It’s no secret that, as you’ve followed my peregrinations through this tangled web of holiday lights, this season I have been enjoying a groaning table full of Holiday treats. This show was a full course meal in itself from the very beginning.
Kicking off the evening, after Musical Director Paul Stephan and upright bass player Tom Hubbard—is there such thing as a “reclining bass?”?—took the stage, our dynamic pair did their version of the Steve and Eydie classic “That Holiday Feeling.” If you know Steve and Eydie, or perhaps you Googled famous show-biz couple Steve Lawrence and Eydie Gormé, well, either way, Sue Matsuki and Edd Clark make this song their own. Sue is an award-winning cabaret singer and song writer and Edd Clark is co-founder of New York City’s New Opera Group and a classically trained tenor who has appeared in operas and musicals, and has toured nationally and internationally with Mimi Hines in “Hello, Dolly!” Together they are unstoppable, both with split second comic timing and senses of humor that are matched only by Hubbard’s skill on bass and Stephan’s as the primary–the “lone”—arranger!
Next was Stephan’s arrangement of the classic Ukrainian “Carol of the Bells,” syncopated and sounding like “Mad Men” released a Christmas album. Vocally, the syncopations had the vocalists playing an expert game of tag and should be released on its own recognizance–it’s brilliant. Next Sue took on Flaherty and Ahrens’ “All Those Christmas Clichés” followed by Edd’s rendition of “Christmas to Remember” by Boutros, Weisman and Black. This pairing was the first indication that the programming was going to be something different, and though you know that these two performers have sung these songs many, many times, there’s a freshness to the interpretation that feels like the very first time.
Then, we heard something REALLY different–Sue and Tom Hubbard’s sassy “Sleigh Ride.” Hubbard’s bass line gambols and flows like dark honey around Sue’s syncopated “Sleigh Ride.” When I’m thinking with my G-rated mind, Skitch Henderson’s arrangement rocks the house, but when I’m thinking with my more adult and sophisticated self, Sue and Tom’s version is what I’d put on the stereo while convincing someone to tarry a bit longer. GROWWWWRRRR!
Closely on the heels of this hep-cat carol is a holiday favorite–“Suzy Snowflake.” Truly making this his own from the very beginning, Edd, in his minor key variation, signals that something wicked this way comes … Stephan strikes again! If you think Suzy’s an ordinary snowflake, she’s a maelstrom inside–the perspicacious recognized Stephan’s feast of Stephen, as in Sondheim, as in it’s a Sweeney Todd Christmas! Pure theatre-lovers delight, especially when Sue becomes a Mrs. Lovett-cum-comic foil–attend the tale of Edd and Sue! This was my personal favorite of the myriad of melodies.
Alfred Burt wrote Christmas carols with his father as part of their commemoration of the season each year. Burt made these carols into cards from the years 1942 through 1954, completing his last carol only days before his death in 1954. “Burtology” is Stephan’s arrangement of carols that suit Sue and Edd to a tee and brought that sense of what Christmas is really all about to the fore. Continuing that theme, guest Alissa Hunnicutt, who is not only a great singer but a gifted puppeteer, performed a song Sue wrote with Stephan from the point of view of the Angel atop the Christmas tree. Hunnicutt had a beautifully crafted folk-style angel and a small tree that she incorporated into her rendition. When the song was through, having seen what the Angel sees through the years from young children growing up, war, aging, and then a new generation of youngsters, there may not have been a dry eye in the house. The Angel’s movements were no less charming for seeing how they happened–a genuine holiday treat!
Bringing the show back to the present–Christmas presents–was a pair of songs to give one pause. First was Edd’s rendition of “The Gift of Maggie” from the 1966 off-Broadway “The Mad Show,” with songs and sketches based on the wit and wisdom of Mad Magazine. Barer and Rodgers wrote a mid-century Modern version of “12 Days of Christmas” as poor benighted Edd runs down the list of what his hapless cousins have gifted him for the holidays. Updated with modern political references, it was a hilarious reminder that what we grab as a gift may not always be well-received despite its good intentions. Sue countered with a delicious song by Jim Fisk, “Pretty Little Dolly,” that is a favorite on the Dr. Demento show and was originally written in 1963. Among the other “regular” little dolly things, this one can sunburn, then peel! It–ahem–goes on from there!
From the ridiculous to the sublime, there was then a great set of contemporary songs, starting with Nick Levin’s song of new love “Warm as Winter,” segueing through the poignant “Cold Enough to Snow,” from “Life with Mikey,” then finally “Winter Was Warm,” from “Mr. Magoo’s Christmas Carol,” that had Sue and Edd first together, then apart as Sue physically reaches for the withdrawn Edd, relationships rife with missed opportunity. Simply beautiful, followed in the only way it could be–by some traditional Holiday fare.
The final group of songs showcased the range and power of both vocalists with Edd taking the lead with “The Little Road to Bethlehem.” His classical training made the flow and phrasing breathtaking. Sue then took the helm with another Stephan arrangement, this time of “Mary, Did You Know.” The minor key and pathos of this Lowry and Greene song cut through the fun and frolic of the earlier parts of the show with another strong reminder of the purpose, for Christians, of the season. The passion in Sue’s voice and the delicacy and dynamic range in such an intimate space, made the show feel more like an impromptu living room concert. Joining forces for Stephan’s arrangement of Adolphe Adam’s “O Holy Night,” the singers again demonstrated their ability to make each song sound like a new rendition every time, which, combined with their close harmonies, beautiful, flowing, made it apparent that their next recording should include this song.
Not content to send us off somberly, they made the final song of the evening the Johnny Marks classic, “Holly Jolly Christmas.” Sue and Edd held the room in the palms of their hands from the beginning, and some audience members were so into the flow that, even before Edd called for all of us to join him, several people had already begun singing with the piano, bass and Edd’s holiday-red ukulele! What a tremendous show, with a year’s worth of emotion packed into less than two hours. This season, remember gifted musicians like Sue and Edd, Paul Stephan and Tom Hubbard. And remember that Santa is everywhere. Merry Christmas!
For more information please visit: www.fabulouschristmasshow.com or for their
CD go to: www.Amazon.com
Sherri Rase, Qonstage.com