Here are 3 wonderful reviews we received for this show. The premise of which was that the show was composed of all Opening Numbers from several of my shows over the past 30 years but the "hook" was that it was not a show about Opening Numbers.
Sue Matsuki HOW'S THAT FOR OPENERS? Is Cause For Celebration at Don't Tell Mama - Stephen Mosher, Broadway World
Thirty-three years to the day. That's what September 16, 2019, was - thirty-three years since Sue Matsuki stepped onto the stage at Don't Tell Mama to audition for Sidney Myer. Nervous, scared, excited, Ms. Matsuki gave it the old college try; and though it wasn't her best audition, Sidney saw something in her and decided to give her a shot, something Sidney has been known to do over the years, and Sue Matsuki had a place to sing. Three plus decades later, the elegant Ms. Matsuki stepped, once more, onto the stage that she has occupied many times, and opened her mouth to sing to a room she has called home, to a group of people she calls family.
The cabaret community being such a supportive one, The Original Room at Don't Tell Mama was filled with friendly faces one sees at many a cabaret event. Richard Skipper sat with Jay Rogers, Bobbie Horowitz was beside Meg Flather, Leanne Borghesi, Marni Klar, Deb Berman, Deborah Stone. All these artists gathered in one place to support an artist whose work they respect and whose friendship they cherish, and when the lights came up on Sue Matsuki, elegantly attired in flowing black chiffon with beaded accents, sparkling silver jewelry at the throat and ears, the ovation was tumultuous. This Anniversary Party would be one to remember.
The show "How's That For Openers" features the MAC award-winning Sue Matsuki singing 16 songs that, over the years, have been her opening numbers for her various shows. The setlist is a magnificent one and Matsuki had ample opportunities to display why she has had such longevity in the business. Sharing the stage with one of the greatest three-piece combos likely to be seen on a nightclub stage, Sue was in her element. Her longtime musical director, Gregory Toroian, at the piano and at her side, Sue Matsuki could rest assured she was in good hands, and often made one of the classiest moves a singer can make: at some point in almost every song, she stepped aside to allow Toroian, bass play David Finck, and Ron Tierno (a master percussionist) opportunities to shine, clearly a wise choice because when a singer has this kind of talent on stage with them, showcasing their talents only enhances the evening. The musicianship on display was unparalleled and the euphoric, peaceful expression on Matsuki's face was proof positive that this is one of the places where happiness lives for her.
For Ms. Matsuki's part, her contribution to the festivities was front and center, right where it, like she, belongs. An incredibly likable, almost unbearably charming woman, Sue knows not how to hide who she is, and though dressed in chiffon and diamonds, she was down to earth in her Doc Martens (oh yes, I was close enough to see her footwear peeking out from under her skirt - and everyone who wears a floor-length skirt should follow Sue's lead) and in her dialogue, sharing all the parts of herself with an audience who could not get enough. Jockeying back and forth between upbeat numbers like "This Could Be The Start of Something Big" to lulling melodies like "Quiet Nights of Quiet Stars", Matsuki demonstrated a range of vocal styles, proving that she can do the ballads and the belts, the swing and the sweet. Several times during the evening her jazz roots were showing, and these are roots that need no touching up - her renditions of "A Small Day Tomorrow" and "Shaking the Blues Away" were simply breathtaking. And in between the insanely well-arranged musical, numbers, Sue shared stories about her life, mostly about her life with her husband and their travel adventures, but also about her family's connections to Harley Davidson motorcycles, and about a bruise she has somewhere on her body, but she isn't telling where (no spoilers, kids, you have to see the show to know).
It was a fun and festive evening worthy of Matsuki's tenure, moved smoothly along by expert nightclub director Lina Koutrakos, and the power couple that is Koutrakos and Matsuki is lucky because, in lesser hands, it could have gone off the rails because of one structural risk they took.
An evening of singing opening numbers culled together from three decades of shows is an interesting idea on paper; but when the finished production is on its feet, there is a potential lack of a musical arc. If you turned on the Carly Simon record No Secrets and listened to it from first song to last song, you would hear the story Ms. Simon created for you. The same can be said of Carole King's Tapestry, Barbra Streisand's My Name Is Barbra and many other albums. If you listen to the compilation records of those artists' greatest hits, you don't have a story, you have a box of candy - it is sweet but it is incohesive. There is a reason for the structure of a cabaret show. There's a reason your first song is your first song, there is a reason you pick a particular number to be your third number - the reasons are the musical story on which you wish to take your audience. That story did not really exist in the show "How's That For Openers?" That did not matter. This was a different story.
This was the story of a long artistic life, well-lived, oft observed, and worthy of note. It is the story of the stamina, the fortitude, the tenacity of the artist. It is the story of artistic survival in a world where flowers wilt from lack of nourishment. The musical arc usually (hopefully) present in a cabaret show was not a required element last night.
It is greatly beneficial that Sue Matsuki is the artist that she is and that Lina Koutrakos saw and recognized that. It is lucky for her audience that Sue Matsuki is a pro, because she provided enough story inside of each tune, a new story with each melody, and then she tied them all together with the stories of her life, thus bringing her audience to her, to know her, to know her artistry, to know her heart. And at the end of the day, that is what a cabaret singer wants to give to their audience: their heart.
Sue Matsuki: How’s That For an Encore? - Jed Ryan, Lavender After Dark
Certainly, no night at New York’s enduring cabaret hotspot Don’t Tell Mama could ever be be described as “ordinary”. That said, multiple award-winning performer/producer/writer Sue Matsuki can look back at September 16, 1986 and recall that evening as, well… extraordinary. Echoing Steve Allen’s lyrics from one of Matsuki’s favorite songs, one could have prophetically sang, “This could be the start of something grand!” For Matsuki, that Tuesday night was the beginning of a long-term relationship with Don’t Tell Mama– which would continue for 33 grand years. She would perform at that club more often than any other in the future.
On Monday, September 16, 2019, the singer honored that anniversary with a very exclusive two-show celebration, named How’s That For Openers? True to its name, the set list was a collection of Matsuki’s opening numbers of her many musical productions through the years. On this memorable evening, The 7PM show was completely sold out, and the 9:30PM show enjoyed a very robust crowd. Once again on the subject of long-term relationships, Matsuki’s supreme team included her Musical Director and pianist Gregory Toroian, who she has been working with for 25 years. Rounding out the team that night were David Finck on bass and Ron Tierno on percussion. How’s That For Openers? was directed by Lina Koutrakos, a powerhouse of a singer in her own right. While the song choices in this delightful production were eclectic in terms of genre,style,and generation, every one of the 16 numbers seemed tailor-made for Ms. Matsuki’s unique persona.
So, about that unique persona… First, there’s the voice. Matsuki can boast about having been in the entertainment field for over three decades (with the many funny showbiz anecdotes to prove it), but her voice remains astonishingly unblemished. During How’s That For Openers?, Matsuki may have often spoke about traveling the world with her husband– but this performer can never be accused of sounding like a world-weary diva. Whether warbling with an idealistic, girlish innocence, showing her soulful side with Small Day Tomorrow, or giving it to the audience in a strong and unrestrained style, her delivery is always smooth and flawless.
Second, there’s her sheer joy in performing, which always comes through– particularly in such classics as Mercer and Arlen’s Accentuate the Positive and Irving Berlin’s Shakin’ the Blues Away. (I dare even the most hardened New Yawker to hear that one and NOT have their spirits immediately lifted!) As her admirers already know, Sue Matsuki has a sense of humor, starting with her name (“‘Sue Matsuki’: It sounds like a sneeze. I wear it proudly!”) and continuing with her fondness for such hilarious musical gems as The Breakfast Blues.
Thirdly, one of Matsuki’s additional talents has always been her expert choice of songs, combined with her affinity for creating perfect medleys of different tunes. An example of this came in her jazz potion of Too Darn Hot with notes of Heatwave and Summer In the City thrown in. The medley may have been about high temperatures, but Matsuki’s delivery was as cool as a shot of chilled Limoncello. She followed that with a feverishly romantic rendition of Quiet Nights of Quiet Stars. A particularly boisterous side of the singer came out with My Country Man, originally made famous by Big Maybelle. Matsuki took some delicious liberty with the lyrics:
“The man I love is Japanese, And he’s big and he’s tall and strong as a hickory tree, And he likes to do… karate!”
In between the music, Matsuki also shared stories about her career as a performer and her own personal life, including her adventures in New Orleans (leading into a hauntingly seductive The Prince of Love with a bit of Iko Iko thrown in). But perhaps no moment was more personal than her version of Rupert Holmes’ Special Thanks with her own lyrics written to honor the staff at Don’t Tell Mama, which she called “my family”. And of course, there was an encore. I won’t give that away, but I will say that Ms. M. gave some artistic liberty to one verse, which couldn’t be more perfect for the spirit of the night: “When I’m singing, I feel the seasons change from winter to spring…!” With the first signs of the impending cool temperatures in the New York air, The audience indeed felt a similar transformation after a night with Sue Matsuki…
“Speaking of happiness… Why don’t we try it one more time”? Sue Matsuki’s How’s That For Openers? will have two encores:
Sunday, November 17th, 3:30PM, at Don’t Tell Mama, 343 West 46th Street, NYC and Thursday, December 19th, 9PM, at Urban Stages, 259 W. 30th Street, NYC
Visit: www.SueMatsuki.com for more details!
SUE MATSUKI in How’s That for Openers? - Robert Windeler, www.BistroAwards.com
On September 16, 1986, Susan Trosell, as she was called then, performed her first cabaret show at Don’t Tell Mama, having passed a nerve-wracking audition for Sidney Myer. Exactly 33 years later, with the same Sidney Myer in attendance, Sue Matsuki, as she had long since become, celebrated her pearl-plus-three-year anniversary with a thoughtful and rollicking show that pulled out all the stops—and then some.
With the supreme confidence of one who had pursued the intricacies and wide range of her art for a third of a century, Matsuki began her set with her back to the audience, giving her initial attention to her music director and pianist of some 25 years, Gregory Toroian. This was entirely appropriate since, together, they were not only reviving numbers they had collaborated on over the years but also, in many cases, revising their approach. Soon she shifted her focus to the already rapt, overflowing audience, ready to experience whatever wonders she (and Toroian) had wrought. From beginning to end, this most recent Matsuki outing at Don’t Tell Mama, entitled How’s That for Openers? and directed by Lina Koutrakos, did not disappoint, to say the least. Throughout, David Finck on bass and percussionist Ron Tierno did remarkable work.
The show’s initial and title song, “How’s that for Openers?” (Bob Florence, L. Fred Manley), quickly set the tone for a brisk but generous 16-number set of, well, opening songs from some of Matsuki’s previous shows at Don’t Tell Mama and other venues. She wrote lyrics for new introductory verses to five of those songs, including “Breakfast Blues” (Ronnie Levine) and “Country Man” (Dakota Staton). The latter song, in particular, displayed Matsuki’s jazz, blues, and even country-soul chops.” Her jazz grounding and instincts were evident in many of her songs, sometimes just in a line or two. As the evening progressed, I got the feeling she could handle almost any genre of music successfully. While some standards were performed in familiarly straightforward fashion—such as Steve Allen’s “This Could Be the Start of Something Big” in a Steve Lawrence-and-Eydie Gormé-esque duet with Toroian—many more took welcome surprising and inventive turns.
For example, Matsuki’s take on her opening number from that very first DTM gig, “Too Darn Hot” (Cole Porter), incorporated snippets from other familiar up-temperature songs, such as “Summer in the City” and “Heat Wave.” For her version of “Everybody Sing” (Nacio Herb Brown, Arthur Freed), Matsuki incorporated an entire verse of “I Could Go On Singing” (Harold Arlen, E.Y. Harburg). On “Ac-Cent-Tchu-Ate the Positive” (Arlen, Johnny Mercer), Toroian played a mini-tribute to the eclectic piano stylings of the late “Dr. John”. Matsuki was right there, too, with “Prince of Love” (Zoë Lewis), in a style I’d term New Orleans Bop.
While it’s probably fair to say that Matsuki mostly does accentuate the positive, she was equally compelling on ballads. A slower-than-usual “Talk to the Animals” (Leslie Bricusse) was more pensive than we’re accustomed to hearing: rather than gleefully celebrating the prospect of talking to the animals, her interpretation wondered whether one could/should do just that. Her deeply felt rendition of “Quiet Nights of Quiet Stars” (Antônio Carlos Jobim, English lyric by Gene Lees), also slowed down a bit, was introduced by a short telling of her Amazon Rain Forest honeymoon. All of her narrative moments were similarly brief and apt. Her finale, “How High the Moon” (Morgan Lewis, Nancy Hamilton), was rendered with pure Ella Fitzgeraldian finesse, range, and feeling, yet, as with all the songs in this set, remained Matsuki’s own. More one could not ask.