An Evening of Love Songs for Grownups
Alix Cohen on Playing Around
Amanda McBroom and her husband, George Ball, haven’t sung together in New York since 1969. An actress, McBroom is best known as one of our most eloquent songwriters and vocalists; Ball is a seasoned musical theater lead. All one can say after experiencing the two together is – it’s been our loss. Distinctively different talents, the couple share an ability to inhabit lyrics at their most truthful and disarming; to make emotion palpable. They also share a wellspring of respect and affection.
“Ship in a Bottle” is tonight’s first full number and the first McBroom wrote for Ball. Sometimes I feel like a ship in a bottle/Lost in a corner on somebody’s shelf/Shipshape and unborn and perfect and useless/A copy of someone who could be myself… McBroom’s satin alto takes us from tremulous yearning through the deep thrill of having found “him,” and in doing so, herself. Performance is heartfelt, not Hallmark.Reflecting on our EAT ME! BUY ME! society and a need for more cupcakes in her life, she next offers the very funny “Round” (written with Joel Silberman.)
I wanna be round…like a little French pastry, life’s more tastry- round…Clever wordplay hits home eliciting club-wide grins of comprehension.
Ball quotes a vocal teacher he had as a young man admonishing him for being in love with his own voice. “At the ripe old age of 17, I was singing “September Song.” One day, he looked in the mirror and knew he could deliver richness of experience. It’s a vocal you want to wrap yourself in – reflective, tender, somewhat bruised. The performer is perched on a stool, one arm on his knee, open palm; elegant.
“Save the Last Dance,” a hummable choice with simple sentiment, is pared down even further. Never taken seriously, it passes with a nostalgic nod. Not here. Ball’s unhurried, baritone/bass version is so deeply poignant it’s as if we can see his heart in his hand. His slightly grainy voice almost physically touches. An exquisite arrangement by Michele Brourman – dances around the still figure.
In perfect complicity, McBroom follows with her own “Dance” about a couple grown apart: Now the dreams of all the days that held such promise/Seem to fade away like shadows in a trance/ As we live from day to day/We get lost along the way/And somehow we’ve forgotten how to dance. It’s a plea, understated and indelible. Newlyweds fox trotting through the kitchen are conjured as clearly as the singer’s wistful gaze towards a husband buried wordlessly in the newspaper. With her, the audience catches its collective breath.
Amanda McBroom and George Ball met when he was performing in Jacques Brel is Alive and Well and Living in Paris. “All I wanted to do was just crawl down his vocal chords,” she tells us. “Brel taught me how to write, he (George Ball) taught me how to sing.”
Ball’s interpretation of “Amsterdam” immerses us in a waterfront, noir film. Short phrases are vehement. The sinewy, melancholy performance rivets attention without a flicker of over acting or unnecessary volume. A powerful story of the seaman’s lot, Brel’s poetry becomes – as intended – dramatic monologue in this actor’s hands. Rising from the gut of a man’s man who will never know another life, it seems to fall on the ears of an unsympathetic God. In character, Ball is pugnacious, proud, and tired to the bone.
Despite swearing she would never do it again, McBroom sings so memorable a rendition of the classic “Carousel” we’re not only reminded of the song’s sweep and resonance but also of the muscularity and finesse of which she is capable. As Brourman’s music box accompaniment insistently rises, the vocalist sways. Phrases begin with something like a gasp. Oom-pah provokes a slight lifting of feet. Arms swing. Eyes grow wild. The world whooshes by. Not a word is lost. She ends on a dime. We erupt. (I recommend McBroom’s Jacques Brel CD Chanson.)
“Some Enchanted Evening” bookends the show. Romantic lead Emile de Becque seems a perfect fit for George Ball. I swear I hear women sighing. Beside me a late middle aged couple take one another’s hands. Jared Egan leans in to bow his bass as if embracing the instrument. Brourman’s contribution is both sensitive and pithy. Both she and McBroom are smiling. Ball’s voice breaks in the last few lines. He is enthralling.
The Gershwins’ “Our Love is Here to Stay” features all four artists on vocal. McBroom and Ball look lit from within as they dance together. This is love.
Arrangements are imaginative, specific and symbiotic. Musicianship is superb. A memorable evening of high craft and infectious intimacy.
NOTE: George Ball’s freshly minted, beautifully produced CD Think of Me features, in part, four of the songs he performs in this show. The collection is understated, moving, and utterly pleasurable. Emotion seems laid bare rather than performed. There are songs that will halt your heart. During irresistibly repeated playing, I find that I intermittently stop what I’m doing to simply listen. Ball is an artist who makes it personal.