Cabaret

Interview with
AMANDA MCBROOM

by Jonathan Frank

Many of today's songwriters are said to be writing tomorrow's standards, but Amanda McBroom has actually written one of today's with her hit "The Rose." Amanda's songs have become staples of the cabaret singer's repertoire, as the lyrics have incredible resonance and are a joy to perform. Her songs have been recorded by Betty Buckley, David Campbell, Barbara Cook, Ute Lemper, and yours truly (and this is not including the myriad versions of "The Rose"). Her songs were featured in every incarnation of A ... My Name is Alice, and she has written a musical, Heartbeats. Amanda is also an accomplished performer, appearing on Broadway with Seesaw, Off-Broadway with Jacques Brel's Alive and Well and Living in Paris, and recently as Desiree in A Little Night Music in Los Angeles.

Jonathan:  Welcome to Talkin' Broadway, Amanda. Now, since we are called Talkin' Broadway, let's start with your Broadway career. You were on Broadway with Seesaw.

Amanda:   A LONG time ago! The first director was Ed Shieren, and he was replaced with Michael Bennett. And they also replaced all but about ten of us actors.

J:   Michael Bennett, eh? Does that mean you're a dancer as well as a fabulous singer and actress?

A:   (Laughing) Sort of. I'm a singer who moves, as they say. I don't have any idea why they decided to let me stay. They got rid of all the interesting character people and brought in all these amazing gypsy dancers. It was a really interesting show originally and Lainie Kazan was FABULOUS! It had a lot of bite to it and a lot of strange characters in it, and it got turned it into a more traditional Broadway show with singing and dancing and hoofers and stuff. I'm not saying one was better than the other, but I thought that the first version was just as interesting.

I think the changes they did in terms of structure were right on the money, but I think the basic thing that was lost was Lainie's performance. Michele Lee was wonderful. But Lainie was dangerous. Lainie was funny, Lainie was really Jewish, Lainie was quite wonderful. She made Gittel a really complicated character. And Michele made her wonderful and funny and accessible and kind of Sweet Charity-like.

J:   Was that the only time you performed on Broadway?

A:   Yes. I've done some shows Off-Broadway. While I was doing Seesaw, they offered me the national tour of Jaques Brel's Alive and Well and Living in Paris and I took it. I had an actual role (in Seesaw) until the day before opening. And then my role was replaced by a Neil Simon monologue, and I became just a chorine with 27 wig changes. Being just a chorine was not what I wanted to do, so I was probably the first person in the chorus to leave. When the national tour of Jaques Brel came up, it was a lead so I took it.

J:   When I saw your cabaret show two years ago, you told an great story about Dorothy Fields, who was the lyricist for Seesaw. Would you mind sharing it with us?

A:   We were in the Fisher Theater in Detroit and I was sitting in the auditorium. It was in the middle of winter. Half the company had hepatitis, half the company had just been fired, everybody was really cranky, and I was really missing my boyfriend. Dorothy Fields came over, sat next to me, patted my knee and asked "What's the matter honey?" I told her how horribly I was missing my boyfriend. She put down this enormous Louis Vuitton bag which she always carried around, pulled out a pack of Camels, lit one up, pulled out a flask, took a drag, then pulled out her checkbook, wrote me a check for $300, handed it to me and said "You get him here. Romance is important."

J:   I love Dorothy Fields. It's hard to believe that the person who wrote the lyrics for "Sunny Side of the Street" and "The Way You Look Tonight" is the same person who wrote the lyrics for Sweet Charity and Seesaw! Were you a songwriter as well through all this?

A:   Writing came to me late. I was an actress, and a folk singer in my spare time. I didn't start songwriting until the mid 70s when I was on the road with Brel. I didn't perform anything that I had written until 1975 or 1976, when a friend of mine, who had a nightclub, made me get up and sing some of my own material. People liked it, and that was the first time I had any idea that people might be interested in my music. It had never occurred to me. It was one of the scariest moments of my life, to be on a stage singing my own songs.

J:   Which brings us to your most famous composition, "The Rose." I remember reading somewhere that "The Rose" was ineligible for an Oscar because it was written for something else. What's the story there?

A:   I wrote it in 1977, 1978, and I sang it occasionally in clubs. I actually sang it on one local television show. Jim Nabors had a local talk show, and I sang it on his show once. Then "The Rose," thank God, made it into the film. When it came time for Oscar Nominations, they asked me if the song was written especially for the film, because it has to be in order for it to be eligible. I told the truth - that it wasn't, that I had written it for myself. So it was disqualified. But if I had lied, it would have been very bad Karma. Besides, somebody would have found me out. Then I would have been very embarrassed and who knows what would have happened?

J:   They would have stripped you of your Oscar and broken it over their knee!

A:   Oh the Horror! (Laughing!)

J:   You still write for movies, especially animated ones.

A:   I've written lyrics for eight animated home video features for Universal, with my writing partner Michele Brourman.

J:   I have a copy of the Hercules and Xena animated movie, you know.

A:   You're kidding me!

J:   Let's see ... Amanda McBroom ... Hercules ... Xena ... animation AND available at Costco - how could I pass it up?

A:   You're a lunatic! It was very strange animation. The woman who directed it was one of the animators and directors for Ren and Stimpy, which is why it was so strange. It's very unreal, because she decided she didn't want to make it realistic or like a Disney film.

J:   What do you have coming up in that realm?

A:   Michele and I are working on the sequel to Balto: Dog of the North. Inuit rock and roll for wolves! We're going to record it this week. I'm going to be doing some of the vocals.

J:   And you also have done some writing for TV.

A:   I wrote for Steven Bochco's series Cop Rock. I was the only girl songwriter on the show which was, alternately, one of the most exciting and one of the worst things that was ever on television. When it was good it was unbelievable, and when it was bad it was really bad. But nobody had ever done something like that before. He was trying to copy his favorite TV show, The Singing Detective, and contemporize it and make it American.

J:   What did you write for The Young and the Restless?

A:   A song called "I Think of You," which became one of the major love themes for The Young and the Restless. And "When Hearts Collide" ended up on As the World Turns.

J:   Which got you an Emmy Nomination. Now as a borderline/closet Trekkie, I have to ask ... what did you play on Star Trek: The Next Generation?

A:   It's funny! I get more acknowledgement for that part than for anything else I've ever done. I was in the episode where they had to decide if Data was a human being or a toaster. I was the judge. I was Jean Luc's girlfriend.

J:   Oh baby!

A:   Well, ex-girlfriend. I was the evil judge of the universe.

J:   That was one of the better episodes. It's always hysterical to see where cabaret folks pop up.

A:   That's because cabaret is always the other thing we do. Because it isn't as if cabaret is going to provide a really good living.

J:   I remember tuning in to an episode of M*A*S*H a few months back which starred Gwen Verdon. And you were playing the accordion in it.

A:   The accordion AND the piano! I was the one with the wiggle-waggles and the really ugly blue dress.

J:   Now, by the time this gets published, you will have already performed at the opening night of the Cabaret Convention in New York. What other performances do you have lined up?

A:   I'm about to leave for Melbourne, Australia. I'm going to be the international artist for the Melbourne Arts Festival in October. I'll be doing my concert thing.

J:   Is that with a full orchestra?

A:   No, it's me and Joel Silberman, who's my music director and orchestra. And I'm about to do a production of Sweeney Todd. I'm going to play Mrs. Lovett here in LA in February.

J:   Oh, I'd love to see that!

A:   Come on down, honey! It's going to be February 7th through the 29th, I believe. It's going to be at the Gold Coast Theater, this beautiful theater complex in Thousand Oaks right outside of LA.

J:   Is that where you did A Little Night Music last year?

A:   Yes, I was Desiree for these people.

J:   I read on your website that you are going to be working on a musical for ACT in San Francisco.

A:   There's a fabulous director named Charles Randolph Wright. He's also one of the producers of a Showtime series called Links. He's just about to direct a big revival of Guys and Dolls at The Arena. He's this hot young director, and he's writing this musical with me as the lyricist, and is getting Dan Moses Schrier, who's the guy who did the music for Bring in Da Noise, Bring in Da Funk, and Edwin Hawkins, the gospel guy (who wrote "Oh Happy Day"), to compose it.

J:   Sounds like fun!

A:   It's gonna be wacky!

J:   When's it going to go up?

A:   I have no idea. Sometime next year. We're supposed to do a workshop sometime late spring. I also might be doing a show with Ann Hampton Callaway at the 92nd Street Y next spring. We did one at UCLA and it was a big ol' hit. It was her, me, and Michele Brourman, and we had a gas. I know that I'm going to go back to Wolftrap next year.

Portraits - Amanda McBroom
Song Clip Click for
"Hot in Here"
In RealAudio

J:   You just released your seventh solo CD, Portraits. It's a "best of" compilation from your previous albums with some new songs, right?

A:   It's the "best of" five of my six CDs, plus four new songs. The man who's producing it is the man who produced my last CD, A Waiting Heart. He told me that this one is probably my most important work, because this is my retrospective. It's three or four cuts from just about everything that I've recorded, and he's remastered them so beautifully that it sounds like it's all from a single recording session. It's unbelievable.

J:   So you didn't re-record the songs?

A:   Oh no! There's 18 songs on it; it's this big ol' album!

J:   I really love your A Waiting Heart CD. That, and Maureen McGovern's Bergman CD were my two favorite CDs of 1997, and I play it constantly.

A:   Thank you! I think A Waiting Heart is the most consistent and the most beautifully produced of my CDs. I'm very proud of it.

J:   Now I'm curious. You mention on your website that your first two CDs are part of the audiophile collection. What does that mean?

A:   When they recorded "The Rose," they weren't sure if I was going to sing the lead or Bette was going to sing the lead. I ended up singing back-up harmonies, and the guy who played the piano was a guy named Lincoln Majorga, who is a major keyboardist for a lot of films as well as being a concert pianist. He's also one of the owners of Sheffield Labs, (a prestigious audiophile label) and at the time he said "I'd really like to do an album with you." I said, "Yeah, right!" He said "No, really." We were at MGM and he said "Here's the studio, back there's the booth, and here's where you'll sing."

So we did these two direct-to-disc albums, which was perfect for me, because I had never been in a recording studio before. Direct-to-disc is where you record an entire side without stopping. If you listen, you can hear people quietly turning pages, coughing, or whatever. I invited about 30 friends, all of whom sat around with headphones and I gave a live performance standing in the middle of a live orchestra that didn't cough! We did something like seven passes on the first side and five passes on the second. As soon as they got a pass that they thought was perfect, they would grab it, throw it in a special container, drive like a bat out of hell to Santa Monica, silver it and press it. But they can only press something like less than 100,000 copies, and then they have to go to the second best take, because the mother, which is like the blueprint, wears out. But the sound is astonishing. You can't go back; you can't sweeten, you can't overdub. It's live, "right now," Baboom!

J:   That sounds like an incredibly scary experience!

A:   It is very scary. But people with $70,000 sound systems love that kind of music. And for some reason, all these speaker companies decided that my voice sounded really good on their speakers. And that's how I wound having a following long before I started my own label (Gecko Records). My voice on Lincoln's CDs was selling really expensive, high-end audio equipment. And I got a cult to follow me. I was very fortunate. It was fortunate all the way around; I had never been in a studio, I didn't know about mikes, but I did know about live performance so I just gave them a live performance, and that's exactly what they wanted.

J:   That's amazing. I can't imagine doing that. I know how many takes and splices went into my CD.

A:   There's nothing like cutting a whole side live. You can't screw up, and you've got this amazing energy going, because you've got all this focus and all this adrenaline, and you can really hear it in the finished product. It's not perfect, but it's very human.

J:   And you have a new songbook coming out.

A:   I do indeed. I'm very happy. It will be out mid-October. It has 30 songs on it. It has all the songs from the first songbook. When Cherry Lane decided they didn't want to publish it any more, we bought it back. And then I added another 15.

J:   Well, I'll be first in line to buy a copy, since I love singing your material. Thank you, and I hope you have a wonderful time in New York and Australia. And I can't wait to see you as Mrs. Lovett!

A:   Thank you! See you in February!

Amanda's latest CD, Portraits, contains the following songs:

1. The Rose
2. Dreaming
3. Errol Flynn
4. Hot in Here
5. Crimes of the Heart
6. Amanda
7. Ship In A Bottle
8. Wheels
9. Best Friend
10. Whoever You Are
11. The Portrait
12. Those Eyes
13. Dance
14. Here and Now
15. Make Me A Kite
16. No Fear
17. From Where I Stand
18. A Timeless Thing

For a song list of Amanda's other CDs, as well as more information on Amanda and her concert dates, visit her website at: http://www.amcbroom.com. Amanda's CDs are available at any major music store and through her website.


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