Have you ever sat in the audience for the lustrous Sharron Matthew’s legendary Cabaret phenomenon Sharron’s Party and wished that you could take even just a little bit of the experience home with you? Have you felt that even after two full acts brimming with hilarity and fabulousness, and two encores including the epic powerhouse performance of Matthews’ one-woman “Bohemian Rhapsody” that you wished that she would keep on singing because you were not yet ready to concede that the party was over? Have you been filled with trepidation and horror when Matthews threatens to lock Sharron’s Party up with Song of the South in the infamous Disney Vault even though you’re quite certain that there is no way in Hell she would ever retire those divine Fashion Crimes dresses forever, but nevertheless, you remain worried that should this happen you will never have the opportunity to hear her distinctive rendition of “Brandy (You’re A Fine Girl)” ever again? Well, never fear, my friend! Now you can take Sharron’s Party with you wherever you go, with your very own Party Girl CD available for download on ITunes or via emailing firstname.lastname@example.org.
The adage that Stephen Sondheim gave to strippers in his musical Gypsy, “You Gotta Get a Gimmick” can also be applied pertinently to Cabaret artists, who also must stand out for their own unique talents, personality and musicality or else risk becoming lost in a sea of ennui. Sharron Matthews was one of the first performers to help instigate a tradition of Cabaret in Toronto and to carve out her own unique career within this genre, and arguably she remains one of, if not the most, vibrant and distinctive voices in Canadian Cabaret while being fiercely, resolutely unique in both her personal and professional style, the structure of her shows and her choice of songs. Party Girl is an eloquent reflection of Matthews at her most creative, and powerfully sensational.
While most Cabaret that comes from the theatre community is widely centered on musical theatre and jazz songs, Sharron Matthews has built her Sharron’s Party franchise largely on pop music, but pop music that is sung with a sensitive and meticulous attention to the lyrics, usually of songs where these are often overlooked in favour of the music. In this way, Matthews reinterprets these songs by bringing out their stories, some of which are absurd or disturbing, others that become richly poignant or resonate differently simply because of the way that Matthews chooses to accentuate them. Expertly transitioning between her razor-sharp comic timing and all the lush, dramatic passion of Fantine on her deathbed, Matthews breathes vivid new life into ninteen popular songs on eleven tracks each familiar to the frequenters of Sharron’s Party.
She begins with “I’m A Slave 4 U,” which is transformed into a lovely ballad accompanied with a sole piano; sensuous, earnest and pleading of unrestrained emotion captured perfectly in full belting crescendos. Next she pairs “California Dreaming” and “Hotel California” to tell the eerie ghostly tale of the famed hotel where “you can check out any time of night, but you can never leave.” Implicit in Matthews’ distinctly articulate retelling are a myriad of dream-like images that bring these lyrics to life. Her rendition of “Every Breath You Take” is considerably less creepy when paired with “With Or Without You” than when I have seen it sung live, accentuated by her sharp, discerning eyebrows. This is a more desperate and wistful version. She pairs “Roxanne” (The Police) with Blondie’s “Call Me” which is a vibrant mixture of Spanish gusto and bubblegum rock.
One of my favourite tracks is “Delta Dawn/Never Been To Me,” two songs that meld seamlessly into one another and are sung with gorgeous sincerity, showing off the gorgeous fluidity between Matthews’ upper and lower registers and how effortlessly the sound soars from her, rich with the passion of the words. She has a short spoken interlude in this song that hits directly to the heart and makes the final verse of the song so poignant and heartbreaking. She also turns The Supreme’s “Stop in the Name of Love” into a beautiful, heartfelt, solemn plea for careful contemplation in the face of a relationship’s potential demise.
Her discovery that the chord progression for “Your Daddy Don’t Know” and “Jessie’s Girl” are essentially the same leads to a joyful jam fest with some fun spoken interludes which is a moment that best exemplifies the type of humour and random tidbits of trivia and personal anecdotes that are so integral to the hilarity and distinctive attitude of Sharron’s Party. She also gives us her signature rendition of “Don’t Stop Believin,’” which precedes the song’s association with Glee by approximately five years. This is one of the songs that has solidified Sharron Matthews’ iconic status in the Canadian Cabaret community and she does it true powerhouse justice on the album.
Party Girl is unlike any other album that you will ever own, and if you love Sharron Matthews (and, quite frankly, who doesn’t) this is the best way to bring a little bit of her effervescence into your daily lives and to be able to turn any monotonous mediocrity into a fabulous party fit for a superstar.
Get dominated; all the cool kids are doing it.