Amanda McBroom Sydney Debut
David M Schwartz, Sydney City Recital Hall – Friday, November 5, 1999
As recently as 20 years ago, it was an accepted fact here in Australia that great performers came to this country only in the twilight years of their distinguished careers. Oh, there were the occasional exceptions, such as Frank Sinatra and Ella Fitzgerald. Their appearances were treated with the same sort of hoopla as Hailey’s Comet, but Australian fans of the Great American Songbook and the artists who made this material their “stock and trade” had to be satisfied with recordings.
All that seemed to change in the late 70’s with the appearance here of Bette Midler. Her show, initially scheduled for two performances was extended to a heady run of 12 sold-out performances. In the 80’s, we were treated to a series of appearances by the great Steve Ross and a memorable evening with Elisabeth Welch, accompanied by the incomparable Peter Howard.
Momentum gathered in the mid-90’s when the Melbourne, Adelaide and Sydney Festivals began to feature famous cabaret performers, such as Barbara Cook, Betty Buckley, Joel Gray, Ute Lemper, Patti Lupone, Bernadette Peters and Michael Feinstein. Each of these artists was greeted with large and appreciative audiences. The face of cabaret in Australia would be changed forever. The only thing lacking were venues that were intimate enough for cabaret, yet large enough to provide a profit for the entrepreneurs. All that seems to have changed in Sydney with the opening this past week of the Sydney Recital Hall, situated in Angel Place.
Last night, a bona fide angel inaugurated this venue for cabaret in Angel Place in the person of Amanda McBroom. With her distinguished musical collaborator, Joel Silberman, she performed a program of songs written by her, as well as Jacques Brel, Rupert Holmes, Craig Carnelia, Jerome Kern, and Rodgers & Hart.
The first miracle of the evening was how Amanda McBroom could transform this beautiful hall, seating 1200, into a cabaret room through the power of her art. With a gentle blend of personal anecdote, philosophy and song, she held the audience for one hundred magic minutes. She chose as her theme the craft of song-writing and the age-old question of what makes a good “standard.”
In a radio interview she gave while in Australia, Amanda McBroom said that “cabaret is not dead; it is very much alive, but it is now living in new and different places… It is the home for people who still want to write the intelligent, emotional and lyric-driven melodic song… It has a great deal of emotion and tell a story.” What we lucky Sydney-siders were treated to was a sampler of her passionate musical theater.
There were many beautiful moments in this all too brief evening. Of course, the program included a generous selection of McBroom gems, such as “Make Me A Kite”, “Errol Flynn” and “The Rose”, and ended most effectively with “Ship In A Bottle”, sung without amplification. This was like a fine brandy at the end of a memorable meal.
And were there some highlights? Most definitely! Hearing her perform Jacques Brel’s “Marieke” was exciting, but paled in comparison to her amazing rendition of that same composer’s “Carousel”, heard on her only live performance CD, AMANDA McBROOM LIVE FROM RAINBOW & STARS (DRG 91432).
However, for me the theatrical and emotional high point of the evening was a bracket of three songs (Kern/Fields’ “The Way You Look Tonight”, McBroom’s “Dance” and Carnelia’s “You Can Have the T.V.”) that moved us through the entire natural history of a relationship from the first flush of romance to marital tension and, finally, breakdown and parting. In a few moments, here was all the drama of a Puccini opera.
Much of McBroom’s work is on offer on her various CD’s, the most recent of which is “PORTRAITS” (Gecko Records GR005). I only wish there were more examples of Amanda in live performance. She said in that same radio interview that “I see my songs as personal messages to ‘special people’.” How special we all felt to hear Amanda McBroom in what I hope will be the first of a series of future Australian performances.