Amanda McBroom is one of those performers who make you understand why cabaret was invented. And why it still endures.
She’s warm, gracious, funny and optimistic. But she’s a sturdy realist and not without edge. This is the woman, after all, who wrote “The Rose.”
When she sings, whether it’s her own work or something by the likes of Jacques Brel, McBroom commands – and rewards – rapt attention. And she just seems to get better with age.
We’ll have a chance to see McBroom this weekend when she brings Song Noir, a show she debuted last fall at New York’s Metropolitan Room, to the Rrazz Room. It’s only three performances, so book now.
Like so many cabaret shows these days, Song Noir came about because the marketing team in New York needed a show title to market.
“Why can’t they just market me? It’s just me singing,” McBroom says on a misty morning at home in Ojai. “When I got the call asking for a title I was listening to a lot of Julie London. I love her and that sound of the ‘40s and ‘50s. So I said the show is called Noir.”
McBroom sat down with her longtime music director, Michele Brourman and started sorting through their favorite strange, dark, sexy, twisted songs. They ended up with tunes by McBroom, Brel, Cole Porter, Astor Piazzola and, for laughs, David Frishberg.
Whatever McBroom chooses to sing, she makes it an event. If you saw her years ago at the Marines Memorial Theatre in Jacques Brel Is Alive and Well and Living in Paris, where, incidentally, she met and fell in love with George Ball, who would become her husband, you heard her gorgeous lyric soprano.
These days, according to the New York Times, the voice is a “a forceful, flexible pop contralto.” That was a conscious choice, McBroom says.
“It was time,” she adds. “I’m probably singing the best I have in my life with the greatest amount of ease. It’s about time and practice and trusting. My voice is one of my dearest friends right now. I don’t worry about it. I don’t push it. I challenge it from time to time – I know where she goes and where she doesn’t. And I’m comfortable with that.”
[BONUS VIDEO: Amanda McBroom performing Jacques Brel’s “If We Only Have Love” at New York’s Metropolitan Room in November 2009. Michele Brourman accompanies.]
[For more videos, visit Amanda McBroom’s YouTube channel.]
McBroom is coming off two rather extraordinary projects. The first was the 2009 release of Chanson, her long-awaited disc of Brel songs. The second is the musical for which she has written lyrics along with Jeannine Dominy (book and verse based on her original screenplay) and Brourman (music). Dangerous Beauty is based on the 1998 movie of the same name. The show sails through the sexy, dangerous waters of Venice in the 16th century as a captivating courtesan pursues the forbidden love of a senator.
The show, in development for a decade, has had some high-profile productions, not the least of which were at Northwestern University’s American Musical Theatre Project, and earlier this year, at the Pasadena Playhouse.
“This show has been astoundingly difficult,” McBroom says. “Like finding a diamond needle in a haystack the size of Wisconsin. It has been continuous, from ‘yes, it should be done!’ to getting rights, to finding tasteful producers, to putting together a creative team that likes each other over a loooong period of time and won’t kill one another. Then there’s refining, refining, refining.”
The piece the team started out with 10 years ago has changed dramatically (pun intended) because the show had to evolve to match the tenor of the times without destroying the original impulse that told its creators this would be a great show.
“That was tricky,” McBroom says. “It was being able to hear someone say, ‘It needs some rock and roll’ and then take a deep breath and say, ‘Yes, let’s try it’ rather than run screaming in the other direction. Now there’s rock ‘n’ roll in it, and it’s really good. I think this show is fantastic. I remember being in back of the theater knitting during dress rehearsal. I looked up and was just astonished to see a new musical. Not Camelot, not My Fair Lady but something new. Then it occurred to me it was mine! It was a revelation. In the world, there’s a new musical. That’s an act of faith.”
McBroom says she may even sing a Dangerous Beauty song as part of Song Noir – perhaps the “song of seduction for the mother.”
As for the Brel CD, McBroom calls it a “great joy of life” and her favorite of her many CDs.
“I call it an album, which is a throwback,” McBroom says. “It’s back to the days of pouring a glass of wine, maybe rolling something, then sitting down to listen to an entire album as an evening’s event. Not just background while doing homework. Michele and I got the song list structured properly, and it’s a movie with a beginning, middle and end. You sit down, light the candles and listen. I’m so proud of that.”
Except for spending a third year of teaching a master class in Tuscany this spring, McBroom is not planning on writing another musical or recording another CD just yet.
“The universe throws things at me,” she says. “I need to find out what the next adventure is.”
FOR MORE INFORMATION
Amanda McBroom’s Song Noir is at 7:30 p.m. Friday, March 18; Saturday, March 19; and Sunday, March 20 at the Rrazz Room in the Hotel Nikko, 222 Mason St., San Francisco. Tickets are $35 plus a two-drink minimum. Call 800-380-3095 or visit www.therrazzroom.com for information.