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
Thursday, December 19th, 9PM, at Urban Stages, 259 W. 30th Street, NYC
Visit www.SueMatsuki.com for more details!