Up Close and Personal – Amanda McBroom continues at the Crazy Coqs, London until 7 May, as part of the London Festival of Cabaret.
Star rating: five stars ★ ★ ★ ★ ★
Crazy Coqs host Ruth Leon announces Amanda McBroom as “arguably the greatest cabaret performer in the world”, but nobody was arguing after 90 minutes in the sublime company of the legendary Los Angeles singer-songwriter on her annual visit to her favourite city.
McBroom groupies are being spoilt this year because she’s doing not one but a two-week stint at the cosy Piccadilly nightspot, along with her pal and collaborator Michele Brourman, a pianist and accompanist of the very highest order.
This is classic cabaret – none of the vocal pyrotechnics of, say, Ann Hampton Callaway, just perfectly created songs, introduced with charm, wit and grace, and put across in a strong, beautifully controlled voice of total purity and clarity.
For any budding cabaret performer, McBroom would be the role model par excellence to sit at her feet and learn.
Best known, of course, for writing ‘The Rose’ (she’d be lynched if she didn’t do the song she wrote in 45 minutes that was later turned into a mega-hit by Bette Midler in the 1979 movie of the same name), she saves that one to the end.
Her second most requested composition, ‘Errol Flynn’, a loving tribute to her B-list actor-father Don Bruce always “four or five” down on the cast list, is kept for the encore. Dry eyes are hard to find.
But this is no trawl through her early catalogue. There is plenty we haven’t heard before including ‘A Case of Spring’, newly written with Brourman whom she first met in 1974. It was that year they first collaborated on the country and western style ‘Amanda’.
So we get their first collaboration, a haunting waltz about the wind whistling her name, and their latest, written a few days earlier celebrating ‘London in the Rain’ and the magic of the city despite (or because of) its weather. Right on cue, it had even been snowing that very afternoon.
Funny songs abound. ‘Voter’s Prayer’ topically calls for promiscuous politicians “for the sake of the nation, put that thing away and keep it in your pants!”
‘Reynosa’ recalls high-school romps and trips across the Mexican border where drink laws are less strict and the sassy ‘Help Thanks Wow’, a much more recent collaboration.
My favourite is the bitter-sweet ‘Beautiful Mistake’, written with John Bucchino, about a red-haired admirer from her past. “In the end you were a risk I couldn’t take/Still I thank you for a beautiful mistake.” Nobody writes more feelingly about love in all its forms than McBroom.
Inevitably, there has to be Brel, her favourite composer. She starred in Jacques Brel is Alive and Well and Living in Paris in the USA and Europe. Here she gives us the stark and dramatic ‘Marieke’ in what sounds like perfect Flemish (but what do I know?) and the absurdly-difficult ‘Carousel’, a song that works up to a crazy, speeded-up climax that would seriously test anyone half McBroom’s age. Not to lose a single word is a high-class example of vocal dexterity.
One small cavil: husband George Ball always tells her: “For God’s sake, do something they (the audience) know” but the two Cole Porters, ‘I’ve Got You Under My Skin’ and ‘Just One of Those Things’, interrupt the flow for me.
Although performed with heart, McBroom lovers would rather hear her own classics like ‘Dreaming’, ‘Ship in a Bottle’’ and ‘Make Me a Kite’ which are left in the drawer. But maybe the casual visitor hearing this lady for the first time wouldn’t agree.
It is still as close to cabaret perfection as you can get – and the dazzling Brourman makes the most of her moment in the spotlight with ‘You’re Only Old Once’ (with riotous McBroom lyrics) as a taster to her one-woman, one-night-only show at the same venue on 9 May. Not to be missed.
Readers may also be interested in:
Closer Than Ever – The Pheasantry – Review