Club Review: Susanne Mack’s “Fragments”

March 13, 2022 | By

Almost all of the cabarets I’ve seen in the last year have seen performers grappling to make sense of the pandemic lifestyle: the grief of missing their collaborators and audiences, and the gratitude and growing pains of returning to the stage again. Susanne Mack’s Fragments at Pangea tracked the process of putting the pieces back together.

Susanne Mack  (Photo: Albie Mitchell)

“Land of Confusion” (Phil Collins, Mike Rutherford) was a good song choice: a hit single from mid-1980s Genesis and right on target for her theme. A mashup of “She’s Leaving Home” (Lennon/McCartney) and “Leaving Home Ain’t Easy” (Brian May) was compellingly arranged by music director and pianist Paul Greenwood, and was tied to a story of Mack’s daughter leaving for college—a fragmentation of the family.

Mack, Greenwood, and director Barb Jungr have terrific taste in pop and rock songs, but they weren’t always a fit for Mack as a singer. With a sophisticated continental accent, vibrato, and a tendency to square off syncopated rhythms, moments like “Give me the beat boys, and free my soul/I want to get lost in your rock and roll…” in “Drift Away” (Mentor Williams) just didn’t sound enough like rock. But her love of the music and the great choices of material were always there, so I wonder if some of the content could work with a different approach. Would a Swiss-German translation of her fourth song of the set, “A Hazy Shade of Winter” (Paul Simon)—I see in her bio that Mack spent ten years in Switzerland—be an unexpected way of handling a cold weather pop classic? One very successful moment in the evening when the European elements did work with rock was David Bowie’s “Where Are We Now?” with its Berlin street names—great crossover choice.

I get the sense that Mack hits her stride with even quirkier comedy than we saw that night, and that there’s a natural place where her sound and the songs she loves would dovetail. 

She is very funny, when she showed herself as the person who eats and drinks just a little more than her doctor wants her to (during the pandemic or just…whenever), hikes up the mountain near her parents’ house in Germany to chat to the goats in the Black Forest, sing into her hairbrush, or have family disco parties in the kitchen—this is the sexy weirdo I want to hear more from.

Charles Trenet’s “La Mer” had a nice bounce to it, and it was lovely to hear it in its original cool, salty, French. “Mensch” (Herbert Groenemeyer) was her only completely German language song of the evening, and a chance to hear Mack relax into a more flowing vocal rhythm. “Sex and Chocolate” (uncredited) was a sultry tango that worked really well; I appreciated her wholehearted endorsement of the essential pleasures.

***

Presented at Pangea on February 25, March 3, April 8, May 20, 2022.

 

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About the Author ()

From Canada, Penelope Thomas came to NY to study dance with Merce Cunningham; then through a series of fortunate and unfortunate events, she wound up back in singing and acting. Credits include lead vocals with FauveMuseum on two albums and live at Symphony Space, singing back-up for Bistro Awards director Shellen Lubin at the Metropolitan Room, reading poet Ann Carson’s work at the Whitney, and touring North America and Europe with Mikel Rouse’s The End of Cinematics. In Toronto, she studied piano at the Royal Conservatory of Music and cello with the Claude Watson School for the Arts, and in New York she studied music theory with Mark Wade. She's taught in the New School’s Sweat musical theatre intensive and taught dance in public schools and conservatories.

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