Brandy's, like all piano bars in NYC, have different teams working on various nights. We dropped in on Wednesday to find the insanely gifted David Budway at the piano, with Natalie Douglas and Bobby Cronin on duty as the singing bar staff. Let's start with Budway. Simply put, he's one of the very best at this difficult job -- a superb pianist, an engaging vocalist, and an immensely playful presence. His ability to imitate a band more than rivals Ann Hampton Callaway's vocal pyrotechnics; ask Budway to sing Elton John's "Tiny Dancer" and you'll be in for a treat.
The opportunity to see and hear cabaret star Natalie Douglas perform for the cost of a beer or two is quite the bargain. She's the house diva at Brandy's but she also takes requests. Bobby Cronin fills the role of audience rabble-rouser; he tends to sing pop tunes and encourages the patrons to sing along.
Like other top-notch piano bars, Brandy's is frequently visited by superb singers who happen to drop in for a drink and a turn at the microphone. For instance, during our recent visit, singer/actor A.J. Irvin quieted the raucous crowd with a stunning rendition of Elton John's "Your Song." Yet another cabaret artist, Mychelle Colleary, spun a musical web around the audience with her swinging rendition of the Spider-Man theme song.
The music on this particular Wednesday night definitely veered heavily into the pop world with only a modest number of show tunes on tap. The room is modest and very intimate, the atmosphere casual. Brandy's Piano Bar may be found on East 84th Street between Second and Third Avenues.
It'is the nature of live entertainment that no two performances of any one show are ever the same. Usually, however, they tend to be pretty close. Well, don't count on that truism applying to Barbara Brussell, the quintessential exponent of "Russian Roulette Cabaret." She can be (and often is) one of the art form's most theatrical entertainers; few cabare singers can act a song more convincingly. On the other hand, you never know when Brussell is going to lose focus and, metaphorically, put a bullet in her act.
In her recent show at Danny's Skylight Room, Love Makes the World Go Round: The Songs of Bob Merrill, she was more than a little trigger happy as she often digressed from her patter to remark on what she was (or was not) doing in the show. This was very distracting. Nonetheless, there were stretches of brilliance here. Brussell nailed such character songs as "I'm Naïve," "Absent-Minded Me," and a combination of "His Face" and "I've Got to Find a Reason." In addition, she offered plenty of insightful comments on Merrill's life and career. Tedd Firth's sterling work at the eighty-eights also enhanced the show, as did the guest appearances by Scott Coulter and David Gurland.
Brussell may be bringing this show back to Danny's Skylight Room in the near future. If that's the case, we'd recommend you give the show a try. If Brussell is on her game, it could be a truly wonderful experience.