Her combination of performing sophistication and songwriting abilities makes her America’s First Lady of Lyrics. Her in-person appearances deliver an emotional depth that is the trademark of the greatest cabaret singers. Her intense focus on chansons plein le coeur means the words and meanings of a song have a heartfelt resonance. Cabaret is a style of singing usually found in sophisticated Manhattan after-hours clubs, or Parisian back street Boîtes in Montmartre. She is one of a kind.Born in Texas, now living in California she has a glorious all-American voice with wonderful and rare cabaret refinement. Cabaret is often associated with world-weary attitude, yet that is not Amanda. Broken-hearted, well maybe, but never, ever, devoid of hope. She takes the great composers like Kurt Weill and Jacques Brel and makes them speak to us in as many colors as the leaves. Effortlessly she switches from English, to French, or German.
Amanda McBroom has been called “…the greatest cabaret performer of her generation, an urban poet who writes like an angel and has a voice to match.” Her name first came to the attention of the music public when Bette Midler’s version of Amanda’s song “The Rose” hit number one all over the world in 1979. But it was Amanda’s performance of her own song on the Golden Globes (she won), the Grammys (she didn’t) and The Tonight Show that launched her career as a singer as well as songwriter.
Her songs have been recorded by the likes of Bette Midler, Leanne Rimes, Barry Manilow, Judy Collins, Barbara Cook, Anne Murray, Harry Belafonte, Betty Buckley, Stephanie Mills, The Manhattan Transfer, Donny Osmond, the Chipmunks, and the Baby Dinosaurs in The Land Before Time (she wrote all of the songs for 11 Universal Cartoon videos).
Michele Brourman (Music Director) is a singer/songwriter and a winner of the Johnny Mercer Songwriting Award. Her songs have been recorded by Michael Feinstein, Olivia Newton-John, Cleo Laine, Margaret Whiting, Rita Coolidge, Donny Osmond, and Sheena Easton, as well as by some of the finest cabaret artists – Amanda McBroom, Heather Macrae, Karen Mason, Sharon McKnight, Sally Mayes, Billy Stritch and more. Her best-known song, “My Favorite Year,” has become a standard in the world of cabaret.
Our Chat Revealed her Heart and Depth
The first thing she asked during a phone conversation was how’s the weather? “Is it still raining,” she laughed, “I’ve never seen anyplace so green, so lush in my life. Around here (California) everything is usually pretty brown, and the only reds and oranges we get is when the hills are burning.”
The last few times she has been in the Berkshires she got to sample our legendary rain. “We were lucky though, it was raining when we arrived and when we left, but we danced between the raindrops. It stopped the two days of the performances. Being that I am from the land that burns down, it was such a treat seeing all that green. I just wandered around the hills, pointing at the trees, the lakes, and ponds, and saying, look, look! It was just wonderful and I came to appreciate why people love the Berkshires so much.”
“Now what I want to know, is this. Are the leaves turning yet, or am I going too early for the most famous event of the year,” she asked plaintively. I promised that we would time the beginning of some of the foliage for her arrival, and she wouldn’t be disappointed. I explained how some people around here didn’t understand all this fuss, after all, they’re just dead and dying leaves.
“You don’t get it,” she said, “around here the palm trees turn grey in the fall, but where you are, the leaves all turn wonderful colors, it’s just so amazing.
“Of course, I have heard about the Berkshires forever, and for a long time dismissed them as a place to go to see New Yorkers in shorts. Boy was I wrong. You guys are so lucky. And judging from the audiences who came to the summer shows, there’s a real smart bunch of people who live there, too. I loved staying afterwards for what I call Act Three, and talking to everyone, signing CD’s, and hearing comments on the songs and music.”
“Hill country folk just like good singing,” I said. “It’s a lot more than that,” she insisted, “it’s an appreciation for great music. You are so lucky to have Tanglewood, and James Taylor, because that is about as good as it gets.”
Soon the conversation turned to music’s many colors, and how gorgeous melodies swirl around, sweeping lyrics before them.McBroom was a songwriter long before she became a performer. She wrote “The Rose,” which has entered the great American songbook. “I never, ever get tired of singing that song. But let me tell you, I am so excited about the music of Jacques Brel, it is the main focus of my new CD Chanson (her 8th) which was just being released when I was there the last time.
“So of course I am going to be doing many of his songs. Several are the familiar ones that you’ve probably heard, and several may be new to most folks. It’s going to be a sort of McBroom and surprises evening.”
For many of us, our familiarity with Jacques Brel is limited to the songs included in his show Jacques Brel is Alive and Well and Living in Paris. But on her new CD, and for her Barrington performance, McBroom will likely delve into his unique oeuvre, bringing lesser known – and just as wonderful – songs to our attention.
She promised a special treat for the Berkshires. “Some of my songs have never been heard in the Berkshires before.” That’s something to look forward to.
And of course, everyone hopes she will sing The Rose, but, truthfully, does she ever get tired of it? “Absolutely not, it is the miracle that changed my life. I love it. And it means so much to so many. I just received an email from friends in New Zealand who were at a concert a week ago where it was performed and it is on You Tube already. It is so formal, so white, so proper and absolutely wonderful.” We’ve embedded a link to it for the curious.
We wondered how her own songwriting was going. “Of course I am going to do one of my own new songs, since I am deeply involved in a major new project – A Woman of Will, a new musical I am continuing to work on with longtime collaborator Michele Brourman.
“It’s an adaptation of a lesser known cult classic film, Dangerous Beauty, and it’s about the most famous courtesan poet in 16th Century Venice. Girls between the ages of 12 and 40 are addicted to this film.
“The poetess was the pop star of her day, sort of the Madonna of Venice. The woman who wrote the screenplay is writing the book for the musical, and is just fabulous. It made its off Broadway debut in 2005, a big production at Northwestern University, and interest is building to get it to Broadway. It’s time to get back to my roots.”
McBroom is not only known for her cabaret gigs, but has appeared on Broadway in Seesaw, as well as in productions of Sweeney Todd, A Little Night Music and Mame. Her other musical is Called Heartbeats and has received 15 regional theatre productions.
Her songs have been sung by Bette Midler, Barry Manilow, Judy Collins, Barbara Cook, Anne Murray, Harry Belafonte, Betty Buckley, Stephanie Mills, The Manhattan Transfer and Donny Osmond.
She has even written for The Chipmunks and The Baby Dinosaurs in the Land Before Time. “I can’t tell you how much fun it is to write those with Michelle,” she bubbled. “It’s like writing a three-song Broadway show every week. And you don’t have to write about love all the time, thank goodness. People with young children love this series, and I am amazed how many people have four year-olds at home.”
We then went off on a tangent, because a little know fact about Amanda McBroom is that she was there at the birth of CD’s. “You know, I never expected to have a recording career. It was 1980 and when we were recording The Rose for the film, the guy who was the pianist, Lincoln Mayorga, asked me to record for his label. Turns out he was the person who ran Sheffield Labs.” So she said yes, and made a recording for people who owned $70,000 sound systems.
It was a perfectionists dream, recorded direct-to-disc with no tape, no overdubs, no mixing, no fixing – for the prestigious vinyl audiophile label Sheffield Lab Recordings. Growing Up in Hollywood Town set a new standard for vinyl recording and hi fi stereo reproduction in general. While it was the end of one era, it was the start of another, and the songwriter had now become intrinsically identified as a singer-perfectionist of music.
So it wasn’t long before Monster Cable approached Amanda and asked her to perform live at the annual Consumer Electronics Show in Las Vegas in 1987. From that performance came an album called Dreaming on Compact Disk, which quickly became a prized, early collector’s item in the new format.
Amanda McBroom’s performances always combine a bit of anecdotal storytelling between the numerous songs. The effect of this is that at the end of the evening, you feel you know her. “I’m a gregarious soul, basically,” she acknowledges and perhaps that is why she stays long after the show is done to meet and talk to people. “I can’t think of a better way to find out what people feel, and what lyrics mean the most to them.”
The secret of her success is simple. America’s First Lady of Lyrics listens to our hearts.
Tickets: $35 (reserved seating); VIP tickets: $45 (includes reception with Amanda McBroom), and available by calling 413-236-8888, at the Barrington Stage Box Office (30 Union Street), or online at www.barringtonstageco.org.
About Barrington Stage Company
Barrington Stage Company, a professional award-winning Equity regional theatre located in the heart of the Berkshires, in Pittsfield, MA, was co-founded in 1995 by Artistic Director Julianne Boyd. Barrington Stage’s mission is three-fold: to present top-notch, compelling work; to develop new plays and musicals; and to find fresh, bold ways to bringing new audiences into the theatre—especially young people. Barrington Stage garnered national attention in 2004 when it workshopped, and premiered William Finn and Rachel Sheinkin’s musical hit The 25th Annual Putnam County Spelling Bee, which later transferred to Broadway’s Circle-in-the-Square Theatre where it won two Tony Awards and played more than 1,000 performances. In 2009/2010 Barrington Stage produced the world premiere of Mark St. Germain’s Freud’s Last Session, which later moved Off-Broadway to the Marjorie S. Deane Little Theater. Barrington Stage was voted “Best Live Theatre” by The Berkshire Eagle readers in 2011 and was named “Best Theatre Company” in Metroland’s Best of the Capital Region 2009-2011.