Surprise! There’s a Party! And You’re Invited!

She has been described as “effervescent,” her Party has been hailed “perfection,” and I was very lucky to chat with the very gorgeous, consistently lovely and outrageously talented Sharron Matthews on Sunday afternoon. Her career is a series of showstoppers. She has shared the stage with Colm Wilkinson, Elaine Stritch and Robert Morse, the silver screen with John Travolta, Lindsay Lohan and Zac Efron and most recently she hosted the Dora Awards! Her one-woman show Sharron’s Party is a medley of songs, stories, guests, interviews, games, a sing-along and lots of laughs. You especially never know who will drop by for Sharron’s Surprise Party, which happens Monday, January 19th, 2009 at Tallulah’s Cabaret at Buddies in Bad Times Theatre. Sharron welcomes guests Thom Allison and Andrew Broderick. And she sings away the January blues.

Sharron Matthews (SM): Thanks for interviewing me! I love being interviewed!

Amanda Campbell (AC): You’re welcome! I’m glad. Thanks for agreeing to do it! My first question is, you’ve been doing Sharron’s Party since 2005, and I was wondering how the idea for the Party first came about?

SM: Um, well, in 2001… (a Space Odyssey) Tyley Ross and I were doing the show Outrageous together. You’re probably too young to have been here for Outrageous

AC: Yeah…

SM: Well, he told me about his idea for the East Village Opera- that he and his friend were going to have an orchestra playing a combination of opera and rock, and now they’re up for Grammys and stuff. And he asked me, “Sharron, what’s your big, dream idea? What’s your million dollar idea?” And I said, “Well, I’ve always wanted to do like a Late Night Talk Show format and instead of having a monologue, I would do variations of things in song. And there would be guests of all sorts of performers in Toronto, and up-and-coming actors and singers, and audience interaction…” And he was like, “I’ll put you in my palm pilot and I’ll call you in a year and see if we are both working on our projects.” And when I started to talk to people about the idea, everyone said it would never work. And I got a little bummed. And when Tyley called me a year later he said, “Are you working on that project?” And I told him, “No, I’m going to need some more time to work it out.” But then when I started to work at Statler’s I knew that I needed to start working on my idea.

AC: You have had so many great guests on Sharron’s Party, from musical theatre stars like Thom Allison, to Teresa Pavlinek who is a comedic genius, and Jean Stillwell sings opera… how do you pick who gets to be a guest on your show?

SM: Basically, I’ll go see people work. I’ll go see anything. A comedy show, a young person’s cabaret… I went to Bitch Salad (at Buddies in Bad Times) hosted by Andrew Johnston, and I saw Teresa Pavlinek there and I knew I just had to have her on my show. They just have to be able to work their bit into a ten-minute segment to be able to work on my show, whether that’s comedy, or opera, like you said. They just have to be awesome, and it’s not hard to find awesome people here in Toronto.

AC: You mentioned going to see young people’s cabarets, can you talk a little bit about why it’s important for there to be a space for young theatre artists to get an opportunity to perform and get that sort of exposure in a cabaret setting?

SM: Well I think when I was coming up in the… early nineties, there was so much more opportunity and space for young people to perform. There was the Limelight Dinner Theatre, and there was more regional theatre for us to work with, and things like, Barb Barsky’s company was doing Assassins… there were about three or four spaces where you could go do cabaret. We had so many more opportunities to work than young people do today. All of the people who would have been working in town in the 90s are now working out of town. And I think, it was when I had Kyle Golemba on my show, he was one of the first talented, young performers I had on there, and I asked him what his dream for the year was and he said, “I just want to book a gig.” That’s when I realized that these performers need a space to A. get experience, and for people to come and see them. But also that they needed to see that there are more chances out there for them. You don’t have to wait for someone else to get you a gig; you can do Cabaret too. I think it’s so important for young people to have these opportunities; it’s one of my favourite things about my show.

AC: What is the best part of doing Sharron’s Party that keeps you doing new shows again and again?

SM: The writing of the new stuff. Creating the songologues. Hearing two songs and thinking “oh! These songs go together!” And getting to watch the audience as they are like “Is that “Hotel California?” “Is she going to sing “Bohemian Rhapsody”?” There’s that great moment where the audience really gets what I’m doing.

AC: Do you have a most memorable Party moment?

SM: Oh god! There are so many! *laughs* Well, introducing Brent Carver. Actually, there was a moment before that show, Grant Ramsay, my publicist and a big supporter of Sharron’s Party, we were watching Brent Carver and he said, “Sharron, look how far you’ve come!” And there’s also the story I told on my blog (www.sharronmatthews.com/blog) where Brent sang “Ten Cents a Dance” on my show, which was one of the first songs I’d ever heard him sing, and one of the things that made me realize that I could get into Cabaret too. Also, interviewing Thom Allison, because we are such good friends, that’s always fun. And I loved watching the audience while Jeigh Madjus sang… I have a lot of them, Amanda!

AC: I understand. I have a lot even from just watching some of the shows on youtube! I read that you started tap dancing when you were five, and that you had this innate desire to perform, and I was wondering if you performed for your parents and family and friends as a child, and if these performances took on a Cabaret style?

SM: Yeah, because they were all different. I would sing a little, and then I would twirl my baton. I didn’t take any lessons, but I thought I was pretty good at it. I kept getting bumped and bruised… and I would tap a little, and do some ballet. And my Mom would always make me sing a song at the end from one of the shows that I did. She would be like, “Sharron, now sing something from The Wiz.” And that’s where the audience participation in my shows came from. I was actually talking about this with Thom Allison on the phone the other day, even from the time I was young, I always wanted to play myself. As great as the big musical shows have been, I’d always just rather be me.

AC: That’s really cool.

SM: Yeah, thank God, eh? *laughs*

AC: You’ve said that Buddies [In Bad Times Theatre Company] is really the perfect place for your show. Can you talk a little bit about why you feel that way?

SM: Buddies really gets what I do. The Gladstone Hotel was also great. They stepped up when Buddies was so busy and booked up… but the people at Buddies, Glen and Pat behind the bar, to the people in the box office, when I come back, they always say, “Sharron’s home!” And as a solo performer, you are always selling yourself and it is so refreshing for me to have a place where I don’t have to sell myself. I’ve already been sold. I feel so welcome there, and… anticipated, and I mean that in the least conceited of ways. It’s so good for your heart, right? To feel like you don’t have to sell yourself, that you are so welcome. And the audience there too, they always get what I’m doing.

AC: I read on your blog what you said about your experience with Sky Gilbert’s play Happy, and on there you said that you felt “avant-garde,” how does creating a new Canadian piece differ from doing a revival of something that has already been done?

SM: Well, there’s no comparison. Everything is fresh. No one else has interpreted that story or that character before and so the door is open. Even if only one other person has done a show before you, you come in and the director, or the actors have some sort of preconceived notion of how the story is supposed to go and who these people are. And Sky writes so… stylistically… he writes very over-the-top… not always, but in this case, you couldn’t go too high, and for my style of performing, that was just like going into a play land. When you’re doing a new show, it means that you have a book that is empty and you can write any story you want in there with the guidance of your director. With a revived show, there is all this writing in the margins, but with a new show you have an empty book.

AC: I wish I could have seen Happy. I can’t remember now why I couldn’t make it…

SM: I loved every night of doing that show. And the audience was so close- for a stage play- and that was challenging. And we were eliciting strong responses. Some people loved the show; some people hated it. And I loved going there every night to see which way that audience was going to respond, you never knew which way they were going to go.

AC: I heard that it was Elaine Stritch who pushed you to keep trying to forge a cabaret scene in Toronto. Do you think it’s beneficial for Canadian performers to have the opportunity to work with and learn from the giants in the industry, like Elaine Stritch?

SM: Yeah, it’s priceless. The experience that they have is just a well… Elaine is- well, she’s got to be over eighty now- she’d hate me for saying that- but she would talk about going to dinner with Cy Coleman… She just always seemed to have a, not a catch-phrase… I would go into her dressing room and I would be worrying about what I was going to do, and how I was going to do it, and she would say to me, “I have learned in this life, not to worry about the future moments, but just to focus on right this moment.” She’d always have something like that. But if you asked her, “what do you think about this?” She’d say, “Oh, what do I know?” She would never make you think she knew everything. Even just getting to watch people work is amazing. Like John Travolta. Or In Cinderella Man, watching Russell Crowe, Renee Zellweger and Ron Howard working together as a unit… these are people at the top of their game. They got to the top somehow; it’s not just a fluke. And so working with them, and watching what they’re doing… something has to rub off on you.

AC: Do you think Canadian producers should work to try to bring in some of these theatre giants so they can work alongside the talented people here in Toronto?

SM: Uhhh, I feel so torn about that. As much as I appreciate and am grateful for the experiences I have had so much, I think we have to build up our own actors to be like Elaine Stritch and those types of stars. And we will never build up our own luminaries until we start casting them in our own shows. It’s about instead of saying, “let’s hire Elaine Stritch” saying, “let’s hire Sheila McCarthy…” We have been saying in our circle here for years that we need to make our own stars. So… I think yes and no is the answer to your question.

AC: I go on http://www.playbill.com/ and I see a big picture of Len Cariou, and an article about George [Masswohl] and I wonder why Canadian theatre stars don’t get even that much publicity here…

SM: I think that THE most important thing- besides working on [a show]- is getting it out there. Especially the stuff that isn’t Mirvish or DanCap. We need to publicize actors outside of the shows. That’s like, when Michael Burgess did those huge musicals, the first really big ones in Toronto after Cats, he was the first to go out and hire a publicist and he made himself a star. That’s why I do my web shows, I’m trying to reach out to as many people as I can because it’s all about developing a new audience. But publicity has to be more accessible to us and I don’t know how to make that happen. I just do what I do in my grass-roots way, but I know there is a way to do it, I just don’t know what it is.

AC: Can you say a few words about Rob Roy?

SM: *Laughs* Well, we don’t quite know where it is right now. We know that Chicago has been cancelled and we know that David Warrwack is working hard to raise the money for Toronto. He lost one of his backers at the 11th hour… and the last thing we need is another Canadian musical scandal. But it’s a great show, and, as you have seen, the cast is phenomenal, and that’s why every actor is still in. We’ll know more in the next week or so. But, like I said, we really don’t need another Canadian musical scandal…

AC: No, no we don’t. Um, I heard that you and [your husband] George [Masswohl] once did a Cabaret together?

SM: Yes, we did!

AC: Any chance of you doing that again?

SM: Umm, I don’t know. Never say never. It’s just that George is always so busy. Because I’m doing Cabaret gigs, my schedule is more flexible, and that’s sort of how our relationship works. He’s doing more of the steady shows, while I’m working as a solo performer, so that if we’re apart, I’m able to go to him. But, if he ever got a block of time off, we might do it again. So the answer to your question is, maybe.

AC: Have you ever thought of taking Sharron’s Party out of Ontario?

SM: Yeah, that’s what I’m working on right now. My dream is one day, and I said this jokingly at the Dora’s, but I really meant it, to walk onstage at the Winter Garden in Sharron’s Party. It’s all about getting from A to B and I’m working on it right now.

AC: You mentioned before that one of the sources for Sharron’s Party was late night talk shows, would you ever considering doing a show like that on television?

SM: Oh, definitely. I put out a treatment, a television treatment right after I started the show, and it got a second look by CBC and CTV, but the idea wasn’t fully formed yet. I’m going to start working on another one again soon. I mean, I think there is a market for the sort of show I do on television. Not everyone wants to watch George Stephanopoulos, not that he’s not great, but there’s another sort of audience there. I think I can fill the lowbrow TV quota. *laughs*

AC: *laughs* On your blog you usually promote the things that you love. So, right at this moment, what is your favourite musical?

SM: Right at this moment my favourite musical is _title of show_.

AC: Right at this moment what is your favourite TV Show?

SM: Right at this moment my favourite TV Show is The Graham Norton Show.

AC: I don’t think I’ve ever even heard of that…

SM: Oh my God! I talked about this in my last web show. Go to youtube and put in “Graham Norton Speed Dating,” it is the funniest thing I have ever seen in my life! I almost peed my pants!

AC: *laughs* Right at this moment what is your favourite song?

SM: Right at this moment my favourite song is… ooh… what song have I been listening to over and over? Oh. It’s “So What” by Pink. Yeah. That’s my favourite song.

AC: A lot of the readers on my blog are young musical theatre performers and I was wondering if you have any wisdom to impart to those who have dreams about making it in the business…

SM: Oh my god, don’t leave any avenue unexplored… don’t leave any stone uncovered. Don’t take anyone else’s word about what you can or cannot do. Only you know what you can or cannot do. Oh, and George [Masswohl] just said, don’t let anyone take it from you. There are so many people around every corner who will tell you that you can’t do what you want, and that you’re not tall enough, or too fat, or not blond enough… There is room for everyone. Like I said before, people told me that Sharron’s Party would never work, and now we’re in our fourth year. Don’t let other people dictate to you. And come and see Sharron’s Party!!! *laughs*

Indeed, yes! Come to Buddies and join the Party! Sharron’s just the surprise your January needs!
Sharron’s Party. Buddies in Bad Times Theatre. 12 Alexander Street. Toronto. Call 416 975 8555 for tickets.

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