It’s hard to believe that Amanda McBroom–who many consider to be one of the country’s leading cabaret performers–had never played the elegant Cafe Carlyle before the current run of her new show A Valentine Rose (running until Feb. 9). But better late than never because few things could warm the cockles of a romance-craved heart more on a frigid early February evening than McBroom sweeping into the Carlyle and singing songs about the vagaries of love that fit her special definition: “Like a double expresso–a slice of life ground under pressure with a little bit of steam.”
While the set list for McBroom’s latest show was more like “Amanda’s Greatest Hits”–a combination of her best original compositions with many songs that she’s often sung in concert or cabaret–it didn’t much matter as she weaved them together seamlessly within a theme that was bookended by two personal convictions. “Romance is my religion” she tells the audience early in the show, while during a lyric in her encore “No Fear,” she admits that “I look at the world through a rose-colored heart.” The quotes not only reveal much about what makes McBroom’s heart and mind tick, but also what informs her intelligent, passionate, and sometimes subtly humorous lyrics.
With her long-time Music Director and frequent co-writer Michele Brourman at the piano and the debonair Dan Fabricant on bass, the impeccable cabaret pro opened with a jaunty mashup of Harold Arlen and Ted Koehler’s “Let’s Fall in Love” with Cole Porter’s “Let’s Do It.” But McBroom didn’t waste any time lighting the lyrical fireplace, sashaying into a jazzy female lounge-lizard persona on her original (with Brourman), “Hot in Here,” a song about seduction between strangers, only you don’t quite know who is seducing whom. She followed with another song written with Brourman, “Old Love,” a charming and humorous tune about the re-connection of aging childhood sweethearts that is somewhat reminiscent of Tom Waits’ story song “Martha,” only without the angst.
It’s not often you hear a truly original and compelling arrangement of Cole Porter’s “I’ve Got You Under My Skin,” but Brourman has crafted a languidly lovely and minimalist piano underpinning for McBroom’s delivery of the number that is smoky, seductive, and sad at the same time. McBroom then couldn’t resist offering a commentary on the regrettable state of contemporary music writing, bemoaning with Gershwin-esque disappointment that “They’re writing love songs today . . . but not for me.” However, ever the optimist–and song researcher–McBroom recently discovered something that reminded her of the wonderful naivete of young love in Melody Gardot’s breathy, jazzy, pop ballad “If The Stars Were Mine.”
“When you’re young you write love songs in pastel,” opined McBroom after the song, before offering her black and white description of what colors romantic lyrics. “It takes a lot of miles to write a love song in red.” She amplified that observation throughout the rest of the show, applying her enthralling lower register tones to the haunting ballad of longing, “12th of Never,” subtly swinging through the Dorothy Fields/Jerome Kern classic “The Way You Look Tonight,” and once again revealing the depth and beauty of her own songwriting with “Dance,” the heart-wrenching, introspective ballad about the evolution of a relationsh