Club Review: Amanda McBroom’s “Crimes of the Heart,” with Michele Brourman

June 14, 2022 | By | Add a Comment

“The Portrait” is one of Amanda McBroom’s most beautiful and beloved creations. I was reminded of it during her delightful new show, Crimes of the Heart, at Birdland, not because she sang it, but because I was amazed that she looked the same as when I had seen her decades ago at the old Ballroom in Chelsea, and sounded even better. I became convinced that she had a portrait buried in a hidden closet somewhere aging in her stead in the best tradition of Dorian Gray.  Sharing the stage with her brilliant music director and sometimes co-writer Michele Brourman on piano and the always great Steve Doyle on bass, the singer put on a dazzling display of cabaret perfection. 

Amanda McBroom (Photo: Mary Ann Halpin)

The show opened with a couple of McBroom/Brourman collaborations, starting off with an instant classic, “Eggs,” which is filled with seductively naughty double-entendres and funny food references worthy of a Dave Frishberg or Blossom Dearie tune. Then their “End of Isolation” addressed the post-COVID dilemma of getting back into the world, into life. The singer also has a most individual way with a standard as well.  Her voice became a smokey caress on Irving Berlin’s “Let’s Face the Music and Dance” and grew into Kurt Weillian intensity on Leonard Cohen’s “Dance Me to the End of Love.”  The medley was a prime example of the intelligence which filled the evening.  Her mastery of the story song was evident in “Sometimes” bursting with poetic specificity about a big romance that never happened, unrequited, and unforgettable.

She previewed an idea that she and Brourman came up with during lockdown—a song cycle of Shakespearean heroines transported to the 21st century. It is high concept to say the least, but judging by “Pants,” which imagines Portia from Merchant of Venice and Rosalind from As You Like It pretending to be boys in a Starbucks in 2022, along with “Titania,” the tale of the character from Midsummer Night’s Dream who infamously rebounded from an abysmal romance by falling in love with a donkey.  It is an inspired idea. The show just premiered in London, and I can’t wait for it to cross the pond to our shores.

McBroom, in shows and on recordings, has always been adventurous in covering contemporary songs. I remember her beautiful setting of Hugh Prestwood’s “Dorothy,” a contemplation of the aftermath of The Wizard of Oz.   In Crimes of the Heart,  she includes the dark and haunting story of art and obsession, “Girl Writing a Letter” (Lori Lieberman, William Carpenter) and Smokey Robinson’s infectious “You Really Got a Hold on Me.”  She follows with a beautifully arranged and played and acted “Send in the Clowns” (Stephen Sondheim). It is a masterclass in cabaret performance and a lesson in how to treat a warhorse in a unique and personal way. Alan Chapman’s “Everyone Wants to Be Sondheim” changed things up nicely; it is filled with quotes, references, and jokes, and the singer landed each and every one.

Michele Brourman (Photo: Kevin Alvey)

Brourman took centerstage to present her recent work with jazz great and master lyricist Mark Winkler, “In Another Way.” I have previously proclaimed my affection for this song in my review of Winkler’s new album, and that affection now extends to Brourman’s touching version. McBroom’s superb taste in covers continued with “Evolution” (Ivan Lins, Brock Walsh), which worked equally well without Lins’s bossa trappings.  As the show moved to its end, McBroom chose two songs that in lesser hands might have seemed clichéd, but the singer showed why the songs were so overdone in the first place—they are damned good. The surging, sweeping build of “Carousel” (Jacques Brel, Eric Blau, Mort Shuman) brought me back to the days of Elly Stone at The Village Gate in the original Jacques Brel is Alive and Well and Living in Paris. McBroom’s inevitable “The Rose” was every bit as touching and hopeful as in its first hearing. 

The final medley combined Portia Nelson’s “Just in Case” with “Our Love is Here to Stay” (George and Ira Gershwin) which could have been a perfect, low-key close to a magical evening were it not for her request that the audience sing along.  When a singer is as accomplished, as enthralling, as good as Amanda McBroom, I do not find the people around me joining to be transcendent; I find it irritating. But that is my only complaint about Crimes of the Heart.  The show, and the singer, were terrific.

***

Presented at Birdland on May 2.

Category: News / Reviews / Commentary, Reviews

About the Author ()

Gerry Geddes has conceived and directed a number of musical revues—including the Bistro- and MAC Award-winning "Monday in the Dark with George" and "Put On Your Saturday Suit-Words & Music by Jimmy Webb"—and directed many cabaret artists, including André De Shields, Helen Baldassare, Darius de Haas, and drag artist Julia Van Cartier. He directs "The David Drumgold Variety Show," currently in residence at Manhattan Movement & Arts Center, and has produced a number of recordings, including two Bistro-winning CDs. He’s taught vocal performance at The New School, NYU, and London’s Goldsmith’s College and continues to conduct private workshops and master classes. As a writer and critic, he has covered New York’s performing arts scene for over 40 years in both local and national publications; his lyrics have been sung by several cabaret and recording artists. Gerry is an artist in residence at Pangea, and a regular contributor to the podcast “Troubadours & Raconteurs.” He just completed a memoir of his life in NYC called “Didn’t I Ever Tell You This?”

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