SUE MATSUKI LOOKS GOOD IN "THIS BROAD'S WAY" LIGHT
Stephen Mosher, Broadway World, (December, 2021)
One 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 arc, 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.
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 gets a five out of five microphones rating for performing her entire show without the use of a lyric sheet, tablet, or music stand.
WHAT BECOMES A CABARET STAR MOST?
Jed Ryan, Lavendar Afer Dark (December, 2021)
Wow, where do we start? The first things that come to mind are stage presence, connection to the audience, respect for the legacy of music, and… talent! The talents of Award-winning multi-hyphenate (singer-songwriter-author-comedian-columnist-teacher… Whoa!) Sue Matsuki are innumerable, but one of her greatest skills is selecting the music which she uses in her performances. She has a way of making even the most oft-redone classics truly her own: Therefore, Rodgers and Hammerstein’s Something Wonderful from The King and I reminds us that love is still alive and well, although Sue’s version is more about seasoned realism than feverishly idealistic romanticism.
Matsuki also has an affinity for having one beloved musical gem smoothly segue into another– and so, we have the phenomenon of having two great songs that sound even better together, while creating an entirely new vibe in the process. This was a technique which Matsuki utilized frequently on her timeless 2001 CD A New Take. The audience at the famous East Village performance hotspot Pangea on Saturday, November 20th (which, incidentally, was Sue’s birthday…) was warmed up rom the impending cold weather with It’s Love (from Wonderful Town) transitioning into Love Walked In (from The Goldwyn Follies). Yes, peeps: In case it’s not obvious by now, this show is a selection of well-known standards and a few rare gems from the transgenerational world of Broadway and made-for-TV musicals. And, what was overwhelmingly clear is that the opening number, with all its singing about L-O-V-E, was Sue’s love song to her audience. Matsuki, who acknowledged that she is admiringly known by some as the “Godmother of Cabaret”, has an enviable rapport with that audience.
While part of this comes with her well-earned reputation as a performer (as evidenced by the “Who’s Who? of Cabaret” in attendance that night; More about that later…), I’d also add that it comes with her skills as a storyteller: Sue likes to talk in between songs, and many times, her choice of numbers has some connection with her own life. Hence, Whatever Lola Wants (from Damn Yankees) becomes a song about Sue, her husband, and an emotionally needy adopted kitten (!). Moving from the whimsical to the provocative, Where or When (from Babes In Arms) / I Remember (from Evening Primrose) becomes a bittersweet, musicalized interpretation of the true story of a beloved relative with Alzheimer’s.
But lest we forget to mention, this delightful show has a name: This Broad’s Way, a cleverly fitting double play on showbiz lexicon. This night was the finale in a four-show run at Pangea. Many reviewers, including myself, have praised Matsuki’s vocal talents in the past, both in her recorded work and in her prolific schedule of live shows. You will NEVER hear Ms. Matsuki treat any lyric or musical note as a throwaway. But if anyone watching this singer for the first time needs proof of her perfect delivery, they get it early on when Sue croons the says-it-all lyric, “Wanna sing a show-TUUUUUNE…!” from the song of the same name, symbolically raising that final syllable to new vocal heights. Mentioning everything and everyone from Hello Dolly to the late Stephen Sondheim, the song is a campy delight (It was, after all, from a 1982 episode of The Love Boat.) Yet Sue elevates the kitschy lyrics to her own patented high level of class. That said, Matsuki does indeed have fun with her audience:
She and her three-man band (Gregory Toroian on piano, Skip Ward on bass, and David Silliman on drums) gave the audience a highly stylized, ultra-campy version of Stepsister’s Lament from Cinderella. With the singer delivering lines like “Why would a fellow want a girl like her, A frail and fluffy beauty? Why can’t a fellow ever once prefer, A solid girl like me?“, it’s perfectly suited for Sue’s particular sense of street-smart (as in 42nd Street) humor, complete with facial expressions. Taking a cue from a one person’s sarcastic observation that the MAC Awards (of which Sue has won three and has been nominated for eleven) are “just a popularity contest”, Sue and her band gave a bossa nova-flavored take on Popular from Wicked, one of the more recent Broadway songs that has penetrated pop culture. A real crowd-pleaser, I’m going to be bold enough to say that Matsuki’s version is better than the original, with just enough of the song’s trademark sweetness but enough tongue-in-cheek sarcasm to avoid mass tooth decay.
The Ballad of Swingin’ Todd from 1979’s Sweeney Todd the Demon Barber of Fleet Street (arranged by John McMahon) becomes a jazzed-up, deliciously funny romp, and gives bassist Skip Ward a special spotlight to show off his bass skills. While we are on the subject, all of her superb (and easy-on-the-eyes as well) band members get their moments to shine. Toroian’s piano work at the conclusion of Cole Porter’s So In Love from Kiss Me Kate is astounding, as is Silliman’s drum solo in Porter’s From This Moment On from Out of This World. Matsuki’s delivery of that song, by the way, is no less than triumphant.
While Sue can be often laugh-out-loud funny, she can also amazingly convey that oh-so-powerful sense of melancholy, as she does with When I Look in Your Eyes, an obscure number from Dr. Doolittle. Remember that “seasoned realism” mentioned earlier? The audience gets more of that with Sue’s achingly provocative new take on Happy To Keep His Dinner Warm (from How to Succeed in Business Without Really Trying)/Dear Tom (from Getting My Act Together and Taking it on the Road), a musical mini-drama which prompted Sue to remind us: “Not all endings are happy… but they’re not always endings.” That said, even Matsuki’s songs about heartbreak become more about empowerment and hope.
As the show came to a close, Sue gave the audience another musical showbiz curio which, like several others, seemed custom chosen and fine-tuned for the audience, most of whom were Matsuki’s fellow artists. (Again, more about that later!) The song was God Bless The Other 99, from Barry Manilow: Live on Broadway. It was a song begging to be heard again.
Of course, there was an encore, but I won’t give it away. I WILL say, however, that just as the first number was a love song to her audience, the closer “renewed the vows” so to speak. On a grander scale, This Broad’s Way is also a love song to the New York City cabaret world at large.
This Broad’s Way was Directed by Lina Koutrakos with Musical Direction and Arrangement by Gregory Toroian. Visit www.SueMatsuki.com for more information on future shows and all things Sue!
SUE MATSUKI: THIS BROAD'S WAY is a Love Letter to Broadway Dreams
Rickey Pope - Broadway World, September. 26, 2021
Sue Matsuki does Broadway her way. There is no more powerful force on earth than a dream deferred. Jazz singer Sue Matsuki came to New York from her hometown of Waterbury, CT to conquer Broadway. She had a trunk full of show tunes and a dream. But she found to her dismay that the carousel of auditions and cursory rejections was definitely not for her. She channeled her energies into creating shows for herself. And for years that's exactly what she's been doing, gathering a shelf full of awards along the way. She's performed in all the major cabaret venues in the city as well as in such high-toned places as Carnegie Hall and the Met. She is a respected teacher and the co-author of So You Want to Sing Cabaret. She created Jazz Brunch, a monthly cabaret open mic that has given a community of performers a safe space to develop material. Sue Matsuki is at the top of her game.
But Broadway dreams die hard. In her new show THIS BROAD'S WAY, which opened last evening at Pangea, she gets to sing all the Broadway tunes she ever wanted to sing, perform all the roles she would never be cast in, and do it all her own way. The songs are completely out of context and applied to her own experiences. "She infuses each tune with her own wry wit and her lovely and warm jazz stylings. She is one part chanteuse, one part monologuist, one part den mother, and one part suggestive vixen. And she is 100 percent fun. Her show is a treasure trove of swinging tunes and she has gathered a smoking trio of musicians in drummer, David Silliman, bassists Skip Ward and her longtime partner in art, musical director Gregory Toroian."
She kicked off her look at the Great White Way with two classic Broadway love songs. She shared a secret from her early days. She confided that she was always attracted to a rough crowd and that her dating life centered around biker dudes. She pivoted into full film noir mode. She brought back a device she had used in a show from several years ago for a four-song story arc. She asked her friends to anonymously submit letters about what gave them happiness and then she added songs. She read a letter from a woman who married twice in the 50's. Her letter detailed the failure of both of those marriages and how she eventually found happiness writing poetry and in the arms of a woman. "Matsuki depicted this fascinating woman with very smart readings of classic Broadway tunes. The centerpiece of the evening the story of her Scottish grandmother's gradual disappearance into Alzheimer's. Her performance was quite beautiful and quite heartbreaking and she offered a beautiful full-circle ending to her show."
Sue Matsuki may have never bathed in the Broadway limelight, but she is nonetheless center stage and doing quite well.
Sue Matsuki Had Her Broad’s Way with Humor and Plenty of Love at Pangea
By Marilyn Lester - NiteLife Exchange, October 1, 2012
Who doesn’t love a good pun? "And who doesn’t love a creatively put together cabaret show featuring a warm-hearted, multi-award winning singer and her long-time award-winning music director—plus a pair of choice sidemen?" Sue Matsuki at Pangea, with Gregory Toroian on piano, and Grammy-winner bassist Skip Ward and drummer David Silliman, served up an evening of showtunes with new twists in Matsuki’s This Broads Way. And of course, the pun is that all of the songs were from an array of Broadway musicals.
Directed by Lina Koutrakos, and with arrangements by "the Matsuki-Toroian collaboration, the array of numbers offered was inventive and well-constructed, with just the right amount of fun salting the meat of the show. The pair have been working together for nearly three decades, so their work is beautifully crafted and executed." Matsuki has a particular knack for humor and irony and “The Ballad of Swingin’ Todd” (arr. John McMahon, after Stephen Sondheim) was done very much Matsuki’s way, cleverly alluding to her seven (!) brothers (see below). Her introduction to the classic “Whatever Lola Wants” (Jerry Ross, Richard Adler), came with the wry note that the lyric made particular sense from a cat-owner point of view.
After the drought of no live shows during the pandemic lockdown, Matsuki was raring to go. How nice to be embraced at her re-emergance into live performing with a whole lot of love, namely “It’s Love/Love Walked In” (Leonard Bernstein, Comden & Green/George & Ira Gershwin). Then, with a bit of shtick, Matsuki’s “guilty pleasure” emerged with “Wanna Sing a Show Tune” (Ray Jessel). This Broad’s Way was a very personal show, one in which Matsuki referenced various high points (and low ones too) in her life. The narrative could have used a more cohesive through-line, but still, her text was authentic and delivered with heart. A poignant segment was a throwback to the singer’s early days, when the Connecticut-born and raised Matsuki had dreams of being on Broadway. The reality that she wasn’t destined for this career path was mirrored in “God Bless the Other 99” (Barry Manilow).
A delightfully high point, and an ongoing source of happiness, is Matsuki’s marriage. More about those seven brothers—their sister’s choices of boyfriends were widely scrutinized. But finally, her choice of husband proved to be universally approved and acclaimed, as in “From This Moment On” (Cole Porter). Matsuki also honored a beloved grandmother who drifted away and into Alzheimer’s disease with a remembrance both sad and humorous. She delivered this touching tribute in “Where or When/I Remember” (Richard Rodgers, Lorenz Hart/Stephen Sondheim).
"Matsuki is one of the most hard-working and dedicated performers of the cabaret stage. If an audience could break into song as in the movies, the tune would be “Hello, Susan!” with its lyric, “it’s so nice to see you back where you belong.”