Letting Go of Dreams but Keeping It Cheerful
Stephen Holden, Rahav Segev for The New York Times – June 28, 2000
Empathy for the deluded: Amanda McBroom at Joe’s Pub.
Imagine Edna St. Vincent Millay resurrected as a Los Angeles-based songwriter and performer and you have Amanda McBroom, the composer of “The Rose” and a theatrically trained singer whose plummy folk-pop alto is a perfect match for her own material. Although some of those songs settle for greeting-card platitudes, the best ones, like “The Portrait,” “Errol Flynn” (a tribute to her father, a supporting actor who worked with that star) and “Ship in a Bottle,” are beautifully precise, insightful verses that transcend the homespun to convey a deep personal sadness.
Ms. McBroom, who is appearing through July 6 at Joe’s Pub (with Joel Silberman at the piano) presents herself as a robust, cheerful everywoman who sees through the romance-novel fantasies that sustain her characters through dull marriages and dimming hopes. She offers an unusually direct and honest vision of life as a process of gaining wisdom while letting go of cherished dreams. The warmth of her stage personality and her voice, which spills over with empathy, act as a protective balm against the songs’ bleaker sentiments.
Monday’s opening-night performance was leavened by astutely funny songs about plastic surgery (“The Lift” written with Michele Brourman) a clever pop blues takeoff on Shakespeare (“Ariel’s Lament,” written with Mr. Silberman) and a sharp but good-humored attack on Martha Stewart (again written with Mr. Silberman), done in a mock operetta style. For these lighter songs Ms. McBroom slipped into a saucy, Betty Boop-influenced voice.
The set’s one non original number, “Marieke,” a cabaret warhorse by Jacques Brel (the composer whom Ms. McBroom credited as her greatest influence) was a stunner that she built to a rending emotional peak.