"When I was in L.A. some years ago doing my musical Heartbeats, I was in the ladies' room after the show one night," recounts Amanda McBroom. "I heard this one woman say, 'I loved it, but what was that Janis Joplin song doing in the show?' Then this other woman said, 'That wasn't Janis Joplin; that was Irving Berlin.' And I thought, 'Either way, I'll take it!' "
Such confusion, and modesty, have long been a part of McBroom's multifaceted career. Although she penned the mega-hit "The Rose," along with such cabaret neo-classics as "Ship in a Bottle," "Errol Flynn" and "Wheels," McBroom is hardly a household name--and many of those who do know her as a songwriter are unaware of what a brilliant singer she is. Yet her show at Rainbow & Stars two years ago was considered by many insiders to be the best of the season. Now, for the first time since that illustrious engagement, New Yorkers have another chance to experience the McBroom magic at Joe's Pub, where she is currently appearing through July 6 (click here for schedule). So, what took her so long to make it back to Manhattan?
"I was waiting for the right room," responded McBroom over the phone from her home in California, a few days before her arrival in New York. "I was very spoiled by Rainbow & Stars, and none of the other uptown rooms were interested. The Carlyle has Barbara Cook and Eartha Kitt and Bobby Short, so who can blame them?"
At Joe's Pub, McBroom is straying a bit from her previous cabaret acts in that she's singing nothing but McBroom--with the exception of one number by Jacques Brel, a major inspiration of hers. But those who expect a replay of her recently-released CD, Portraits: The Best of Amanda McBroom should think again: Ever-busy, the lady has added several brand new songs, including "The Lift" (a clever paean to the pros and cons of plastic surgery), "Ariel's Lament" (a bluesy meditation from Shakespeare's sprite), and "In His Hands" (a gorgeous love ballad, also in the Shakespearean mode, that McBroom sets up as Gertude's answer to her son Hamlet).
Although McBroom claims to be supremely undisciplined, songwriting is of paramount importance to her--which is why she refuses to travel more often. "I'm working on a one-woman show," she says, "and an original musical, which is what I really want to do. And I've optioned a film to turn into a musical."
Still, cabaret will always touch her deeply; few performers strive to connect with an audience in the way McBroom does. Just weeks before coming to New York, she wowed them at London's Pizza on the Park. "We cleaned their clocks," she says, still astonished at the reception. "They were jumping up and down and shouting, 'Whoopee!' There were people yelling for 'Dreaming,' and I kept thinking, 'Wow--somewhere in the Cotswolds, someone is listening to me."
But perhaps her most memorable out-of-town engagement occurred some years back in Chicago, where--like this time around--she played on July 4th. "We were right near the water," McBroom relates, "and they told me that the fireworks were going to drown me out at nine o'clock. So I had to stop singing at five to nine. It was the fastest set I ever did!"