An Amanda McBroom show is as much theater as cabaret. The artist tells us she has an affinity for story songs, but the fact is, with a divining rod for intention, she makes anything a story song. The canniness and grace with which this occurs takes us to the human heart of lyrics. One of the few performers who can evoke tears, McBroom is also a card carrying author and purveyor of wit that makes us feel represented.
Tonight is a salute to women songwriter friends whom she admires – fortunately including her own work. “The first, by my very best friend,” introduces “Take a Bite” by most frequent collaborator, Michele Brourman with Karen Gottlieb. “Frankly Eve, the snake was right/If there’s an apple left/I want a bite…” McBroom sings with determined pluck.“…You see that apple?” (a challenge) “Mmm-oh yes! “(anticipating the sin/taste) “Eat it.” A reminder-to-self song. Few better present a metaphorically raised eyebrow.
(Photo Maryann Lopinto)
Both McBroom and Julie Gold (in the club tonight) are “founding members of the Bette Midler Changed My Life Club.” McBroom wrote “The Rose,” the #1 hit title song of the loosely disguised 1979 Janis Joplin biopic by the same name starring Midler. Gold’s “From a Distance,” became a hit for ‘The Divine Miss M’ winning the Song of the Year Grammy in 1991.
“Southbound Train” (Julie Gold) is wistful. Music creates the gently rocked momentum of a railroad car. All we need is a little dry ice for some smoke. A stranger’s head on her shoulder, the singer can’t help but recall “him.” We hear halting resistance, resignation. McBroom emits a deep sigh before the last verse. It’s astonishing how quickly the song affects.
Guest Sally Mayes (come back to New York and do your own show!) offers “Only a Broken Heart” (Carol Hall/Text Arnold) inspired, we’re told by Hall’s mentoring, then nurturing vocalist David Campbell through a break-up. “She was a really sweet lady, but there’s a limit!” Mayes comments. “It’s not like you slipped your disc…lost your dog…your luggage…You’ll survive, I swear; There, there, there…” Wry and animated, Mayes personifies just the right I-know-cause-I’ve-been-there-get-over-it attitude. Remember, Hall was known for remarks like, “She’s just a slut, bless her heart.”
Amanda McBroom and Sally Mayes; Sally Mayes
Lori Lieberman’s “Girl Writing a Letter” is the cinematic fantasy of an art thief and his relationship to the figure in a Vermeer painting. McBroom conjures. The chronicle begins stealthy; bowed bass looking over its shoulder. We watch as riveted as security cameras. Getting away with the robbery sounds (and looks) like evangelical revelation. The vocalist’s pulse seems to race fast and loud enough for us to feel and hear it.
“Information Please,” is based on a newspaper article about a black dial-up phone sent her by the song’s eventual composer, Ann Hampton Callaway. It arrived with the note: There’s a song here-find it. A child depends on an information operator named Sally for encouragement and solace. McBroom is masterful with touching emotion. There’s no drama here. It’s unfussy, relatable, real.
Perching on a stool or walking the stage, fixing her eyes on someone here, someone there, McBroom is accessible, attentive. She shares. One of our best writers is also one of our best communicators- – and by the way, in fine voice. At the piano, Brourman, a singer songwriter herself, seems to breathe in concert with her collaborator. Music is rich, supportive, distinctive. Bassist Ritt Henn, a good choice here, has not only skill, but the intelligence and sensitivity to understand these songs.
Michele Brourman and Amanda McBroom
“The Way You Look Tonight” (Jerome Kern/the great Dorothy Fields) arrives long-lined lyrics and melody with a dash of foxtrot playfulness. When the song seamlessly morphs into McBroom’s own “Dance,” we cross a threshold. “In the kitchen and the hall/For no reason at all/ We would catch each other’s eyes/And we would dance…” emerges tremulously. Over the years, the couple forgets, or he does. The song tears at heart tissue.
Out on the street the day before, McBroom tells us, homeless people made her wonder, “Who were you? Who was your mama?” With no time to recover, sentiments laid bare, she shepherds us into “Wheels,” a song of life from excited childhood to old age. With a helix of piano and gradating octaves, we pass from letting go of handlebars downhill on a first shiny bike to doggedly pushing a cart, “Sleeping in alleys/ Standing in Line/An aberration in life’s design…” The song is a scene in one bringing out every fiber of actress in this extraordinary writer/performer.
“For Nothing,” written on the anniversary of Hiroshima, performed again on 9/11, is, alas, once more apt. A prayer in the jungle, a bombed school, a flattened hut, a sacked church, temple, mosque, a prison cell… from the barricades…It’s fitting that “The Rose” should follow painful, hopeful.
Amanda McBroom tells us she spent COVID in garden boots and no bra wondering whether she should give up the business. Michele Brourman, bless her, said, “Shut up and sing.”
We need your humor, compassion, and honesty. You represent us.
Opening Photo- Maryann Lopinto
Amanda McBroom – Such Good Friends
Michael Brourman – MD/Piano/Vocal
Ritt Henn- Bass
315 West 44th Street