Noir: Amanda McBroom with Michele Brourman continues at the Crazy Coqs, London until 25 April.
Star rating: 5 stars ★ ★ ★ ★ ★
There are many times in the year we should thank our lucky stars that the Crazy Coqs, London’s friendliest, most elegant cabaret room, came into our lives, none more so than when the distinctive contralto of the exceptional Californian singer-songwriter Amanda McBroom graces the capital.
Dressed in sparkly black, along with her tiny sidekick Michele Brourman, so much more than just pianist and musical director, McBroom’s set embraces material old and new under the banner ‘Noir’, explaining the blackness of the title as “sexy songs for trashy women” about “loving someone when you really shouldn’t”.
For any cabaret lover there can surely be no better way of spending 80 minutes than in the company of this eternally graceful lady whose charm, purity of voice, skill with words and warmth of humour has remained constant throughout the passing years. She is singing as well as, maybe even better than, she has ever done.
Best known as the writer of the title song of Bette Midler’s 1979 movie The Rose, she would be lynched were she not to perform the ballad that reached No. 3 on Billboard’s Hot Hundred and won Midler her first Gold single, and it was no surprise when she closed her superbly crafted show with this evergreen crowd-pleaser.
Two more songs which have become McBroom standards precede this – ‘Errol Flynn’, the tearjerker she wrote as a love letter to her bit-part actor-father David Bruce, and the thrilling but devilishly-difficult Brel classic ‘Carousel’ that reminds us of the muscularity and acting finesse she can find when required. As Brourman’s music box accompaniment insistently rises, the vocalist sways, arms swing, eyes grow wild, the world whooshes by, not a word is lost. From the slow, slow start to the building crescendo of a finish, it is a performance for the ages.
We McBroom groupies know those three well and familiarity breeds content, but equally impressive is a new one (on me at least), ‘Beautiful Mistakes’, an award-winner written in collaboration with John Bucchino only a few years back.
McBroom calls this the “noir-est one I ever wrote” and easy to see why. With “It was the best love, it was the worst” as the opening line, we know straight away where we are going: “We fell in love too soon or met too late” these partners in a beautiful mistake. For anybody who has made a few of them, “From the beginning we knew the end/There’s just no winning in games of Let’s Pretend” is an especially resonant couplet made all the more poignant by McBroom’s actress training – she must be the only Mrs Lovett (LA, 2000) I haven’t seen in the glut of Sweeney Todds doing the rounds.
Not a word nor anecdote is wasted. Simplicity, truth, stillness, economy – a masterclass in the specialist art of cabaret which, in her definition and that of the elfin Brourman, is “personal theatre –it’s me and you”.
Jazzier than usual – and with Brourman driving her on – she changes pace for ‘It’s Only a Broken Heart’ (by Carol Hall and Tex Arnold) and the Hoagy Carmichael classic ‘Baltimore Oriole’, telling us she met a wizened Carmichael near the end his life when he told her: “Lady, I like the way you en-un-ci-ate.” As do we all.
Her own ‘Lady Has the Blues’, inspired by a 1952 film noir starring Barbara Stanwyck called Clash By Night, is counterpointed by the comedy of ‘The Bitch is Out’ which she wrote with her one-time accompanist Joel Silberman.
McBroom takes a breather while Brourman, once a pianist in Bob Dylan’s band, performs her own, moving ‘Hold Out For the Real Thing’, and if all the songs in her one-night-only solo show at the Coqs next Monday are up to this standard, there won’t be a better way of spending that evening.
First of all, though, do catch this magical partnership. Cabaret simply doesn’t get better than this.