Balladeer McBroom saves love song
Chad Jones, The Oakland Tribune – March 3, 1999
Cabaret Review ***1/2
Amanda McBroom is an old-fashioned modern cabaret singer.
Part of her act is in the grand cabaret tradition that has her sitting atop a grand piano swathed in black velvet warbling sophisticated tunes about love. And the other part is planted in the more down to earth world of emotional pop songs that when they aren’t breaking your heart make you laugh at everyday foibles.
The languishing Bay Area cabaret scene got a much needed boost Tuesday night when McBroom and her accomplished pianist, Joel Silberman, arrived for a two week gig at San Francisco’s Plush Room in the York Hotel.
Most famous as the writer of the mega hit “The Rose,” for which Bette Midler is terribly grateful, McBroom is a smart song writer with a penchant for heart twisting ballads. She’s also a gifted interpreter of songs and knows just how to user expressive but limited voice to wring every ounce of emotion from a lyric.
McBroom’s last San Francisco run was three years ago at the Fairmont Hotel, and in that show she sang all of her own songs. This time out, she’s sharing the spotlight with other writers both new and old, and the resulting 90 minute show is enchanting.
Of the songs she didn’t write, the best is by Laurie Lieberman called “The Girl Writing the Letter” and fits into a category of songs that McBroom describes as “little movies for the ears.”
The song is about a man who falls in love with a girl in a Vermeer painting. One day, as the museum is closing, he sneaks in and , with a knife, slices into the painting and steps in. Before the song is over, the girl in the painting has stepped out into the real world and is driving a car and drinking a beer.
It’s a strange but wonderful love song, and McBroom insists that she’s on a crusade to rescue the love song. “Love songs are having a hard time as we approach the millennium,” she says. “People just want the beat and don’t pay attention to the words.”
Not listening to the words is impossible when McBroom sings them because that’s what she does best. her take on Rupert Holmes’ “The People That You Never Get to Love” is a sweetly melancholy vision of missed opportunities and her version of Rogers and Hart’s “My Funny Valentine” is positively rapturous.
The dramatic centerpiece of the show is a trilogy of songs that begins in the first blush of romance with Dorothy Fields and Jerome Kern’s “The Way You Look tonight.” That segues into McBroom’s own “Dance.” Which chronicles the death of romance in a marriage. Then comes the clincher with Craig Carnelia’s “You Can Have the TR.” a wrenching inventory of items being distributed in the wake of divorce.
As the song ends, the spotlight narrows off McBroom’s tear streaked face and you want to run out of the cabaret and into the path of an oncoming bus.
The show does, mercifully, have its lighter moments.
McBroom and Silberman have penned a snazzy little ode to Martha Stewart that begins, “You wear me out Martha,” and continues, “You are bright and perky, and a wee bit quirky always knitting sweaters out of old beef jerky.” Another slice of comic relief comes in “I Want to Be Round” in which McBroom touts the virtues of being, as she puts it, the anti Alley McBeal. “Other girls can be the broccoli,” she sings. “I want to be the creme brulee.”
McBroom fans will be delighted to know that she has included several of her most loved tunes.
Of course, the show ends with “The Rose,” which its composer still delivers with heartfelt passion. “Errol Flynn”, a wistful celebration of her father’s B movie career, is an emotional highlight, and there isn’t a finer or more affecting song about longing than McBroom’s “Ship In a Bottle,” which she sang without the microphone for one of her opening night encores.
As ever, Silberman provides the deftly grand musical groundwork on which McBroom builds emotionally fraught explorations of love, desire, pain and, as one of her lyrics puts it, “comfortable despair.”