DIVA TALK: Chatting With NYMF Stars Natalie Joy Johnson, Luba Mason and Victoria Matlock

By Andrew Gans
June 28, 2013

News, views and reviews about the multi-talented women of the musical theatre and the concert/cabaret stage.



This week's column spotlights three of the women featured in the 2013 New York Musical Theatre Festival, which runs July 8-28 at various venues around the city. Diva Talk posed the same set of questions to each talented artist; their answers, via email, follow.

Natalie Joy Johnson
Natalie Joy Johnson: Full Bush at the The Pershing Square Signature Center - Studio Theatre; July 11-14

How did you get involved with this production?
John Hill, Brian J. Nash and I have known each other for years. And, back in 2011, we teamed up for my one-woman show Natalie Joy Johnson is Relentless at Joe’s Pub. Our show wasn’t your typical one-woman concert with some torch songs and some chitchat. This was a fully scripted, theatrical piece – essentially a 70-minute monologue with moments of songs here and there that furthered the story. And, it was funny and bawdy and vulnerable and ridiculous! It was electric – that first performance – there was such a feeling of love from the audience, and permission to really let me be Relentless for them! Relentless remains one of my proudest moments in my career thus far.

Considering what fun we had with that show, and how exciting it was to create such a special, fresh, piece that was so well received – when Isaac Hurwitz reached out to me for the festival, it seemed like the perfect opportunity to make the magic happen again.

What other NYMF productions have you been a part of?
Interestingly enough, the only NYMF show that I’ve done was back in 2005. I played Sinead in But I’m A Cheerleader, alongside John Hill as Rock, with musical direction by Brian Nash. How fitting that we’ve returned back to the Festival where we all worked together for the first time!

How would you describe the character you're playing?
Ha! Well, the character’s name is Natalie Joy Johnson, so there are some inherent sensibilities that are similar. But I would say she’s a bit more grand, a bit more boozy and a bit more over the top than I am. And, that’s saying a lot. There are moments of the story that are inspired by my real-life events, and then there are those that are sheer fabrications. But, I’ll never tell which…

Let’s just say this – she’s a woman down on her luck, who’s looking for love from a variety of sources, who learns that perhaps she only really needs to look within herself. Deep, deep inside of her self. Full Bush.

Why do you think audiences should attend this particular production?
When Isaac Hurwitz and I talked about doing the NYMF concert series, he challenged me not to do a typical one-woman show, but to push the envelope and to a make it a more theatrical experience. And we have accepted the challenge.

Full Bush is hilarious, heartbreaking and ridiculous. It’s not your typical "park and bark"-style cabaret. We are going to transport you, and take you on a journey deep inside the Bush.

Why do you think NYMF is so important?
I think NYMF provides a crucial platform for artists to be able to create and produce new material. And to be seen in front of New York audiences who are eager for that new material - what a dream!

Johnson in the Legally Blonde tour.
photo by Joan Marcus

NYMF celebrates new musicals, but which role in a classic musical would you most like to perform and why?
How much time do you have?? There are so many classic roles that I love! Not the least of which is Dolly Levi in Hello, Dolly! I also love Mrs. Lovett in Sweeney Todd. But secret dream role that I’d be totally willing to lose 30 pounds for? Dot in Sunday in the Park With George! “We do not beloooooooooonnnnngggg together!!! And we should have belooonnnged….” I can’t! I love it so much!!!

What is your most memorable onstage mishap?
Well, there are ones that happen weekly at Brian and [my] weekly show at Therapy (which is free, every Tuesday at 11 PM! 52nd between 8th & 9th). But the theatre one that always pops to mind was during bare: a pop opera. Back in the day, the character of Nadia played a cello. So, I had been rehearsing with the cello and a new bow. Now, bows are made up of thin fibers which need this substance called rosin on it, in order to produce sound. Not to burst anyone’s bubble – but I wasn’t playing live, so we didn’t put any rosin on my bow because we didn’t want it making any sound. So that left the fibers loose. Well, I was new to the instrument, and while I was playing and singing the song “Spring,” I bowed a little too low and the bow – not treated with rosin and loose and fibrous – totally got stuck into the tailpiece. Like, I move it and it was just hanging there. Meanwhile, the track is still playing! And there was that moment with the audience where we all realized it was stuck – I knew, they knew, and the music is playing. So, I dropped the bow, which was still hanging to the cello, and “plucked” my way through the rest of the song. It was amazing! The audience laughed, and loved me for the rest of the show, because we were all a part of this “real” moment which wasn’t supposed to happen at all!

What was your most enjoyable theatrical experience of the season (as a member of the audience)?
I had such a blast seeing the opening night of Kinky Boots this year! My dear friend, Kevin Smith Kirkwood, is one of the Angels, and I got to be his date for the evening! It was such a great night and such a fun show!

Do you have any other projects in the works?
Well, Brian and I will be continuing our weekly show at Therapy every Tuesday night at 11 PM. It’s been such a blessing for us to have a weekly home where we can try out all sorts of new, crazy material and to really hone our style.

And, I’m so excited to head up to Barrington Stage directly following our run of Full Bush to do Southern Comfort again! Then it’s off to P-town for a few days, and back to the hustle!

Luba Mason

Luba Mason
Julian Po at The Signature Center; July 8-14

How did you get involved with this production?
One never knows how one gets cast or not cast these days, but since I got this offer from Tara Rubin's office, I pretty much felt I should do the piece. I have since found out that the director, Kirsten Sanderson, sought me out for the role. She and I did a reading eons ago and am amazed and grateful that she thought of me! She is a great talent, and I wish she would move back to New York from Los Angeles, so I we can see more of her work.

What other NYMF productions have you been a part of?
A couple of years ago, I performed in Pandora’s Box [with] Kerry Butler and Deidre Goodwin.

How would you describe the character you're playing?
I play Lilah Leech, a funny, stylish, sexy Southern woman, who is full of life and passion but not appreciated much by her husband.

Why do you think audiences should attend this particular production?
This cast is superb: Chad Kimball, Malcolm Gets, Sean Cullen, Jason Gotay, Corbin Reid, Jon Fletcher and Issadora Tulalian. The music is beautiful - a mix of pop, folk and bluegrass. The story is unique, offbeat and thought-provoking about a young man, Julian Po, who comes into a small town with the intention of taking his life and has the effect of reinventing the lives of the townsfolk around him. It's a charming gem of a piece!

Why do you think NYMF is so important?
Because NYMF supports and gives voice to these smaller, artful musicals. We need balance with the big, Disney, movie musicals currently on Broadway.

NYMF celebrates new musicals, but which role in a classic musical would you most like to perform and why?
Any musical that Stephen Sondheim would be involved in. I've never worked with him and hope it's still a possibility.

What is your most memorable onstage mishap?
Two come to mind...the first in How To Succeed in Business... with Matthew Broderick when the "office" set malfunctioned and never came on stage. The scene between me (Hedy) and Matthew (J. Pierpont) was all ad-libbed on an empty stage. It was frightening and quite thrilling at the same time! The second was in Jekyll & Hyde when my Dr. Jekyll's tight black pant zipper broke and I needed to keep a straight face during our love scene with a white shirt tail sticking out of his crotch.

What was your most enjoyable theatrical experience of the season (as a member of the audience)?
Watching Bette Midler on stage for 90 min. in the one-woman show I’ll Eat You Last.

What are your other projects in the works?
I'll be finishing up writing my one-woman show by the end of this year with music that I'm writing for it as well. And a date at 54 Below is coming soon...I'll keep Playbill.com posted about both!

Victoria Matlock

Victoria Matlock
Life Could Be a Dream at The Alice Griffin Jewel Box Theatre; July 8-14

How did you get involved with this production?
Roger Bean, the writer/director, asked if I would be a part of it. We'd worked together on The Marvelous Wonderettes at the Westside Theatre here in New York, and had a great rapport. I've always been a big fan of his work, so I immediately agreed.

What other NYMF productions have you been a part of?
This is my first! I'm so excited!

How would you describe the character you're playing?
Lois is a great combination of what you'd expect a good girl in the late 50s to be, with a bit of sass. She's got a lot of heart and is completely sincere in her desire to find love and help these guys achieve their dream of becoming recording stars.

Why do you think audiences should attend this particular production?
Unlike what you might expect from a "jukebox" musical, Life Could Be a Dream is extremely sincere. It wears its heart on its sleeve. The silliness is realistic and natural, yet ultimately the emotion gets you in the end. It's also a lot of fun that the characters are in the same Wonderettes world that audiences already intimately know and love.

Why do you think NYMF is so important?
I think NYMF is important because it is such a great breeding ground for new works. It's helpful to get New York audiences in small doses, and to help otherwise obscure pieces find investors. It's a great way to see a lot of new works, on a budget, in a short amount of time.

NYMF celebrates new musicals, but which role in a classic musical would you most like to perform and why?
I'd always love to play Evita again. Or Sarah Brown in Guys & Dolls! Gah! I'd love to do that.

What is your most memorable onstage mishap?
I have a problem with falling. And as tall as I am, let's just say it's a long way down.

What was your most enjoyable theatrical experience of the season (as a member of the audience)?
I was lucky enough to be at the opening night of Matilda, and I just loved it. So fresh, so fun, so different.

Do you have any other projects in the works?
After NYMF I'll be headed out to Sonoma, California, to be a part of Transcendence Theatre Company. It's an awesome new company committed to sustainability and community. I'll be singing my face off in the middle of a vineyard, and I can't wait!

Well, that's all for now. Happy diva-watching! E-mail questions or comments to agans@playbill.com.