Amanda McBroom at the Crazy Coqs, London.
Musical Theater Review
Everyone has different tastes, of course, but for any cabaret lover there can surely be no better way of spending 80 minutes than in the company of the distinguished, delightful and truly brilliant Californian singer/songwriter Amanda McBroom, a lady best known as the writer of the title song of Bette Midler’s movie The Rose but who is so very much more than that.
I have only one thing against McBroom: she has not performed on these shores for 12 years, and that is far, far too long. But absence, they say, makes the heart grow fonder and the intervening years have been kind. Still gracious and immaculate, she gave us 18 great songs in a voice which, if anything, is even purer and more powerful than it was when she first visited Pizza on the Park way back in the last century.
The Crazy Coqs in Piccadilly, a room, she said “which has echoes of a prior, more elegant age”, keeps bringing us these outstanding transatlantic artists, but this one is undoubtedly the creme de la creme.
A standing ovation greeted her dramatic interpretation of ‘Ne Me Quitte Pas’, one of two Brel numbers – the other was ‘Marieke’ – which grabbed at the heartstrings. Sung in French and Flemish, these barely needed the English translations to be show-stoppers.
Brel has long been a part of her life. It was while performing in Jacques Brel is Alive and Well and Living in Paris that she met her future husband, the same man who told her that ‘The Rose’, the song she wrote in ten minutes flat after listening to a radio programme in the car, would end up being a standard. How right he was. It made her name, her fortune, and changed her life as she was much more actress than songwriter until that moment.
Like Anne Reid, who dazzled at the same venue a few weeks ago, McBroom uses all her actress training to deliver a package in which not a word nor an anecdote is wasted. Simplicity, truth, stillness, economy – it was a masterclass in the specialist art of cabaret which, in her definition and that of her musical director and best friend Michele Brourman, is “personal theatre – it’s me and you”.
Immediately gaining a rapport with her audience with a minxy version of ‘Let’s Fall in Love’, she kept up the humour with ‘Hot in Here’, one of three songs she performed which she co-wrote with Brourman, her accompaniest and a very considerable talent herself.
Once a pianist in Bob Dylan’s band, she gave McBroom a breather to perform her own best-known composition ‘My Favourite Year’, a song about first love which has been recorded by Michael Feinstein, Cleo Laine and Olivia Newton-John. So good, it would be no hardship to spend a whole evening in Brourman’s company too.
Of course, the songs everyone wanted to hear from McBroom were ‘The Rose’ and ‘Errol Flynn’ and, like the great pro she is, she kept everyone waiting almost to the end. The latter composition is a loving tribute to her dad David Bruce, a Hollywood B-lister who acted alongside many of the biggest names but was “usually the first one killed off in war films”.
Recalling the first time she had a film-set chair with her name, Amanda Bruce, written on the back of it, an old actor approached her asking: “Are you David Bruce’s daughter?” and followed up with “Did he ever tell you about the time Bill Holden and he, three bimbos and a goat went to Catalina Island?” to which McBroom responded: “No, and I don’t think he told my mother either!”
There was another good tale from her 1973 Broadway debut in Seesaw, the last musical co-written by the great Dorothy Fields (whose ‘The Way You Look Tonight’ features in the current show). Seeing the young actress in distress, missing the love of her life who was working out of town, Fields immediately wrote out a cheque for $500 and commanded: “Bring him here – romance is far too important to ignore!”
Judging from the reception to McBroom on this occasion, it will not be 12 more years before we have this multi-talented performer back in town.